The NHS sets aside £26bn for future medical negligence claims, but won't spend it on improving the service.
Today I read about the how the NHS Litigation Authority has set aside £26bn to cover future and existing medical negligence claims against NHS hospitals. That is almost one quarter of the £113bn annual health budget.
In 2013 The Mail reported that £17.5bn was spent on claims made against the NHS, so why has such a large sum been set aside for 2015? Is the NHS expecting standards to drop and for more mishaps to occur?
In a recent report by the Telegraph The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt revealed that "1,000 patients a month are dying needlessly in NHS hospitals because of staff blunders". He goes on to promise reforms to bring an end to a “cover-up culture” which is risking lives.
As part of the NHS' new Duty of Candour, Mr Hunt now plans to put in place new measures to fine any hospitals that are dishonest about their medical mistakes and any Hospitals which are not able to prove that they have been upfront about cases of negligence, will face fines of up to £100,000. It is quite possible that the increased money put aside is to take fines of this size into account.
I think it is a bold move for Mr Hunt to propose these sanctions, especially since saving money and reducing the staggering bill that the NHS already faces, is the primary objective. At first blush, this may seem like more money being thrown away because of mistakes. Judging by the amount that was set aside to cover the number of expected claims, it would appear Mr Hunt is expecting a large number of hospitals to face fines too. However, the sad reality is that change often only arises in big bureaucracies when their finances are shaken. And this is what I think Mr Hunt hopes to achieve.
Mr Hunt said: “Being open and learning from mistakes is crucial to improving patient care. The NHS is a world class health service, but when mistakes happen it is vital that we face them head on and learn so they are never repeated."
“This sends a strong message that covering up mistakes will not be tolerated.”
Making individual hospitals more accountable for their mistakes is a good idea. As a medical negligence specialist I see clinical negligence cases where injuries have been negligently caused, even after it is clear the hospital was aware of issues and potential problems. If they had been obliged to face these shortcomings head on, those injuries may not have happened.
I praise Mr Hunt for tackling the real issue that the NHS faces in relation to cover ups and misinformation. It would appear that over time this sort of practice has become an underlying part of the NHS' culture, and I absolutely agree that we have reached a time when reform is needed. £26bn is a huge amount of money, but if it is what is needed to address some of the failings in the NHS today and to improve standards, it could result in a significant saving in the long run.
Jonathan is a barrister in our medical negligence and personal injury department, Jonathan Zimmern has been dealing with complex and high value cases for over 7 years, acting for those injured through medical negligence or personal injury accidents.
Jonathan’s cases cover many areas, including: