Banning leaflets advertising personal injury lawyers and claims management companies from NHS hospitals is unworkable and counter-productive, the government has been warned.
Health minister Simon Burns last week told English NHS hospitals it was ‘not acceptable’ to display adverts for law firms. He said patients should be able to focus on treatment and getting better, without having to be ‘hounded’ by lawyers. His comments came on the back of an early day motion from Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, supported by 29 cross-party MPs, calling for advertising in hospitals to be forbidden.
But advertisers warned any ban would hit hospitals’ income and conflict with the 2006 Compensation Act, which allows businesses to operate in NHS trusts with the approval of the facility’s management.
In return for advertising space on NHS leaflets, claims management companies pay for bespoke, specialist equipment in the hospital. Payments can also be negotiated between the hospital trust and advertiser.
Anthony Mowatt, major shareholder in BOE Medical Publishing, which has deals with 170 hospitals and has a panel of solicitor firms on its books, warned of confusion between clinical negligence and patients seeking compensation after suffering a personal injury.
‘The contracts we have with hospitals forbid us from being involved in any claim on that hospital,’ he said.
‘In 99.9% of cases the patient is only given one of the leaflets when they are being discharged. They’re not being handed to people lying on their backs in A&E wards.’
Mark Boleat, former director-general of the Association of British Insurers, said ministers would open the system up to abuse if they changed the current rules on advertising.
‘[Before 2006] there was a problem with cowboys advertising in hospitals - some had to employ security guards to keep them out,’ he said. ‘Now it can only happen with the hospital’s agreement. If you took that system away you would still have advertising and marketing, only you would lose any control and drive it underground.’