It has recently been announced in the media that the National Health Service has set aside £26bn to cover medical negligence claims against NHS bodies, nearly a quarter of the NHS’ annual budget of £113bn.
Unsurprisingly, the announcement has led to a large amount of negativity in the press; notably against the current government and claimant clinical negligence lawyers. However, the actual annual NHS expenditure on medical negligence claims is roughly only £1.3bn - a small portion of the £26bn budgeted and it is not yet clear over what period the full amount will be spent, or whether the full amount will be spent at all. We do know the budget is to cover both existing and future claims.
With the looming general election, proposed NHS policies are seen as a key ‘battle ground’ for winning votes. Consequently, arguments have been made for an ‘indemnity scheme’, placing a cap on the level of compensation payable to successful claimants; similar to the Criminal Injuries Compensation scheme. Sadly, there are still too many NHS patients who suffer severe injury as a result of avoidable errors and a capped indemnity system is unlikely to meet their life-long needs.
The NHS complaints procedure has been labelled seriously flawed by the Parliamentary and Health Ombudsman. In too many instances complainants are not given clear answers, their basic concerns are not addressed and apologies are not made. As a result, negligence claims have nearly doubled from 6,562 in 2009-2010 to 11,945 in 2013-2014.
We advise all our clients, where appropriate, to pursue the NHS complaints procedure thoroughly prior to considering further action. For those with severe injuries, the complaints procedure may serve a limited purpose in restoring their lives, but for many others closure can be achieved knowing they have alerted the authorities and have helped prevent similar mistakes in future. Better complaint handling (or no negligent mistake in the first place) would go a long way to reduce the number of claims; which in turn would reduce the overall NHS budget.