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Insight

NHSLA accepts early transparency will speed up medical negligence cases

17/10/2016

Analysis by the BBC has discovered that the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) – the legal arm of the NHS - paid out more than £1.4bn in settlement of medical negligence claims last year.

The NHSLA provides cover to every NHS trust, for which it deducts a sum of money from each, based on the total of expected pay-outs for that year.

Those figures, which include both defendant and claimant costs, have increased continually since 2008, when the total paid out for medical negligence was £583m.

The NHSLA has defended its role in the increasing costs, blaming significant rises in legal costs from claimant solicitor firms. It said that claimant legal costs rose 43 per cent to £418m last year, from £292m in 2014.

The Chief Executive of the NHSLA, Helen Vernon, said: "We want to reduce the need for expensive litigation. The key to reducing the growing costs of claims is learning from what goes wrong and supporting changes to prevent harm in the first place.

"This means increasing the use of mediation in the NHS, early transparency, saying 'sorry' and demonstrating that lessons have been learned to prevent the incident happening again."

This view is supported by Neil Sugarman, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (Apil). He told the BBC: "It takes a lot of work to prove a claim against a Goliath organisation like the NHS, which holds all the cards and information about the incident, so delays and unnecessary denials are unhelpful and costly.

"The cost to the NHS of its negligence should come as no surprise, in view of almost daily publicity about poor treatment and avoidable harm".

He also said that Apil had been discussing ways of saving money with the government, including the NHSLA accepting failures when they happen and reducing costly delays in settling claims.

"The NHSLA is its own worst enemy for pushing up costs against itself by dragging out claims and defending cases needlessly, only then to settle at the door of the court," Mr Sugarman said. More recently, the Law Society Gazette published figures that show last year the NHSLA paid out 76 per cent of claims after proceedings were issued. 2,514 cases in 2015/16 closed with the payment of damages, compared with 797 that were successfully closed without any compensation payment.

Partner Mark Bowman highlighted the need to speed up the litigation process to reduce legal costs in the Times in August. He said it is refreshing to hear the Chief Executive of the NHSLA now recognise the need to admit mistakes earlier, with an emphasis on increasing the use of mediation to settle claims sooner.

Jamie Green, a trainee Legal Executive work, says he regularly works on cases against the NHSLA and is repeatedly told by clients that the main reason they decide to pursue a medical negligence claim is to find answers for their own peace of mind and to ensure a similar accident does not happen to other people.

"Hopefully, this will not only reduce legal fees incurred but will also give claimants a degree of closure on the issue," Green said.

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