With the economy under strain at present, budget cuts have been made to many public bodies and institutions, including the NHS. With life expectancy increasing and treatment lists lengthening the burden on the health service is huge. This has been exacerbated in recent years by the soaring cost to the NHS of medical malpractice claims. It has been estimated that the service faces payments of over £15 billion to cover these costs, as more people are seeking the services of medical negligence solicitors and receiving payouts.
Some argue that an increasing number of people are taking advantage of ‘no win no fee’ arrangements and pursuing claims for minor reasons, with disregard for the economic impact this has upon the NHS. However, such reports seem to be moving focus away from the injured patient, when in fact many of these cases result in deserved payments.
The outstanding figure of NHS costs may be due to the recent spate in successful claims for patients who suffered brain damage as a result of clinical negligence at birth. Incidents such as these will demand regular financial aid to support a victim throughout life. As such these cases involve ongoing payments as well as a one off sum, contributing to the economic burden borne by the NHS. In addition, there have recently been a number of historical incidents which are now being pursued in court. A 19 year old man, for example, was recently awarded funds for lifetime care totaling £10 million by Stepping Hill hospital, after suffering brain damage there as a baby.
In addition, legal aid is widely available to all members of the general public, making it increasingly easy to pursue legal action following a claimed negligence incident. £2 billion is spent on legal aid every year in England and Wales, and our legal system is far more generous when compared with the rest of Europe. The median spend on the continent on legal aid is €2.1 per person, compared with a hefty €45.7 in England and Wales. The government recently attempted to address this issue, by proposing to reclaim almost £10 million awarded to victims of clinical negligence. It was hoped that this would dissuade families from claiming compensation in future, or only doing so in the most severe of cases. However, this would have adversely affected around 5,000 families and as such the proposal faced fierce backlash from legal experts and campaigners like Action against Medical Accidents, a patient safety charity.
Patients who have suffered significantly as a result of clinical negligence will often have their lives irreversibly changed, affecting the quality of life for themselves and their families. This will involve great financial cost and as such victims should not be deterred from pursuing valid claims. Compensation claims should not be about blame or finger-pointing and instead should be sought by those needing much-needed aid. Law firms can be an important tool in this regard. The label of ‘greedy lawyers’ has been evoked, with claims that legal firms contribute to the NHS’s rising costs. However, it is forgotten that specialist clinical negligence solicitors also act as a filter, discussing cases and their implications fully with victims before deciding whether further action is necessary.
In many cases, clinical negligence payments are essential in order for a family to experience the best possible quality of life following insufficient care. As a result of the rising costs to the NHS it is important to move away from a culture of blame and carefully examine and review cases before any payments are sought.