Claimant lawyer representatives have warned that the planned new regime of fixed recoverable costs for clinical negligence will stop people from securing the compensation they deserve.

The Department of Health yesterday unveiled plans to limit costs for most claims valued up to £25,000 and introduce a streamlined process for making claims.

Ministers insist the proposals – which target legal costs rather than compensation levels – will bring costs down while still ensuring that restrictions do not affect injured access to justice.

But the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers has warned that the scheme would place a ‘significant hurdle’ in the way of patients seeking the damages they need to rebuild their lives.

APIL committee member Suzanne Trask said: ‘In its obsession with the cost of clinical negligence claims, which actually represent a tiny fraction of the NHS budget, the government is failing to address the very patient safety issues which are at the root of clinical negligence and the costs, both financial and in human misery, which are associated with them.’

Other claimant lawyers asked why the government has not done more to address delays caused by defendant legal teams.

Stephanie Prior, head of clinical negligence at London firm Osbornes Law, said the changes will mean that many specialist lawyers will not be able to take on claims deemed to be low value. She added: ‘While it is true that costs can spiral on cases this is generally because the NHS lawyers sometimes drag out cases for an inordinate amount of time, which inevitably has to be paid for.

‘If the NHS legal teams were more efficient, then these matters could be dealt with a lot more swiftly, meaning costs are significantly less. It would be far better for the NHS to look after the people it has wronged swiftly rather than seek to restrict their access to justice in this way.’

But one defence group – while supporting measures to remove the adversarial culture of litigation – expressed disappointment that the proposals do not go far enough.

Emma Parfitt, MDDUS director of professional services and general counsel, said: 'We are very disappointed government is still moving so slowly on what is clearly a win-win for patients and the NHS. A comprehensive fixed costs package is urgently needed.'

Julie Pullen, a partner at defendant firm Plexus Law who specialises in clinical negligence, said: 'As defendant practitioners we welcome the introduction of fixed recoverable costs in low value clinical negligence claims. So often, such claims lead to disproportionate costs being incurred and delays in outcomes for all concerned. The proposed Scheme will encourage early resolution of claims, provide certainty and reduce court time.'

Lawyers have also questioned whether fixed costs can be achieved without limiting payments to experts. While the streamlined process would limit the number of experts that could be relied upon and create model reports, there is nothing in the proposals on the fees experts can charge.