NHS Compensation Costs Reach All Time High
From the Guardian 19/08/09:
The NHS spent more than £800m settling legal claims last year as complaints of medical negligence against the service rose sharply.
The surge in payouts is revealed in the NHS Litigation Authority's annual accounts which show that maternity services attract the highest legal costs. Clinical errors in delivering babies can result in lifelong damage and payments accordingly reflect the intensive medical care often needed for decades to come.
The liabilities show no sign of easing off. After five years of relatively consistent levels of claims for compensation due to errors by NHS staff, numbers leap last year by 11%. "We have not been able to identify any single factor that might have precipitated the rise," the authority commented in its report.
Most cases are settled out of court. Of the 8,885 clinical and non-clinical claims made in 2008/09, fewer than 4% are expected to end in a court hearing. There were almost 6,000 claims received last year under the clinical negligence scheme for NHS trusts.
Where wholly meritorious cases are brought in response to genuine instances of medical negligence, the argument can at least be made that doing so may indirectly improve the efficiency and quality of health care offered to all. But given the tendency for the majority (read 96%) of cases to be settled out of court - because it tends to be a safer bet for the respondent compared with risking losing the case if it proceeds to trial - there are bound to be a good number of borderline or possibly even undeserving claimants receiving compensation because, from a PR perspective, the NHS simply want to make such allegations go away.