The government is looking at new ways of bringing down the costs of clinical negligence claims against the NHS – including through fixed costs, the Gazette can reveal.

Although the issue did not feature in last month’s Queen’s speech, the Department of Health has vowed to reduce the £259m annual bill for claimant costs.

A Department of Health spokeswoman told the Gazette the issue is being discussed internally and ministers acknowledge the need for action.

Last week’s Carter report, examining ways hospitals can save up to £5bn a year, demonstrated the pressure on the NHS to reduce its budget, and the clinical negligence bill is sure to come under scrutiny.

‘Legal costs in clinical negligence claims are too high and take away vital funds which should be used for patient care,’ said the spokeswoman.

‘We are currently looking at ways to reduce these legal costs.’

According to the NHS Litigation Authority’s figures for 2013/14, claimant legal costs amounted to 22% of the £1.2bn expenditure on clinical negligence claims. Defence costs accounted for 8% (£92.5m) of spending.

The Medical Protection Society, which defends doctors, dentists and healthcare professionals, said the government must act to stop funds being diverted from front-line services.

Dr Pallavi Bradshaw, senior medicolegal adviser, said: ‘A fixed-costs regime for small-value negligence claims should be a priority for the government this year, and we are seeking to engage with them on how to make this a reality.’

Insurers believe clinical negligence claims have increased since the Jackson reforms forced personal injury lawyers to look for new areas of work. The Medical Defence Union has told the Gazette it successfully defends 70% of claims – an increase on two years ago.

Any attempt to reduce or fix costs will be met with strong opposition from claimant lawyers.

The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers has urged the government to focus on reducing accidents rather than targeting claimant costs.