Claimant legal costs for clinical cases rose by 12.5% in 2019/20, according to figures published by the body responsible for defending them.
In its annual report, covering the year to 31 March, NHS Resolution states that claimant costs increased during year-on-year to £497.5m. Defence costs for clinical claims also increased, by 2.8% to £143.5m.
Of the increase in claimant costs, £21m related to general practice indemnity arrangements recognised for the first time, and the remainder related to an increase in interim payments.
In 2019/20, NHSR received 11,682 new clinical negligence claims and reported incidents, up 9.3% on the previous year. This was the highest number of new claims since 2013/14. Of the 15,550 claims settled, 71.5% were settled without proceedings, 27.9% with proceedings and 0.6% at trial.
NHS Resolution stressed that while new clinical negligence claims went up this was against a backdrop of increased NHS activity and increased numbers of incidents being reported to it, such as those arising from mesh implants. Claims for serious injuries at birth have shown small declines for three successive years and are now at their lowest level for over 10 years.
The future financial burden on the NHS appears to be easing: during the year the discount rate for compensation payments was increased from -0.75% to -0.25, and the cost of claims received and expected to be received in future has come down from £8.8bn to £8.3bn.
NHS Resolution chief executive Helen Vernon said the report reflected a more collaborative approach to investigating claims for compensation.
She added: ‘Litigation has reduced for the fourth year running and mediation is now seen as mainstream. The pandemic has placed enormous pressure on our colleagues across the NHS and it has been encouraging to see remote mediations taking place to that cases can continue to be resolved.’
Meanwhile, new government figures appear to suggest that motor claims continued to fall in 2019/20. The number of cases registered to the DWP’s Compensation Recovery Unit (CRU) was 653,052, down by 1%. In 2011/12 the number exceeded 828,000.
The CRU figure is considered to be a good indicator of claims activity, as it records if a compensation payment has been made as a result of an accident, injury or disease.
Matthew Maxwell Scott, executive director of the Association of Consumer Support Organisations, said all claims barring clinical negligence had fallen over the past 10 years.
‘That long term declining trend across most if not all classes of claim underlines our view that the UK is not in the grip of a rampant compensation culture, which some policymakers and corporate vested interests would have us believe,’ he said.