Health officials have agreed the cost of clinical negligence claims is ‘unsustainable’ as they digest the advice of MPs to overhaul the system. The Gazette understands the Department of Health & Social Care is considering the health committee’s report ‘carefully’, although there is no indication that its recommendations will become part of government policy.
The committee, chaired by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt MP, this week called for a change in the law to bring compensation into line with the cost of NHS rather than private care and for an independent administrative body to investigate cases and determine compensation.
Such recommendations would effectively overhaul the entire clinical negligence system and – say the MPs – reduce the financial burden on the NHS from claims. This cost-saving element will attract the attention of Whitehall, where the rising costs of clinical negligence have long been considered a major concern and an issue that needs tackling.
A health department spokesperson said: ‘The rising cost of clinical negligence is unsustainable and puts added pressure on public resources, which is why we are working across government to address this and will consult on the issue.
‘We recently consulted on proposals to tackle disproportionately high legal fees for lower value clinical negligence claims and NHS Resolution is working to resolve claims more quickly, with better value for money.’
In January this year, the department started consulting on proposals for fixed recoverable costs for claims up to £25,000. This will save an estimated £454m over 10 years but that will do little to eat into the £2bn annual costs of clinical negligence claims and ministers are looking for more significant changes.
But a patients’ charity warned the government not to be swayed by the ‘superficially attractive’ examples of countries such as New Zealand and Sweden – both cited in the committee’s report – in dealing with clinical negligence costs.
Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA) said there was no evidence that a no-fault compensation system improved those countries’ ability to learn from mistakes. ‘The notion that the current, well established, and evolved system of law which carefully determines compensation based on the injured persons needs can simply be discarded is no more than a headline grabber,’ said AvMA.
‘We must start with a fundamental cultural change in our healthcare system, one of independence, openness, explanation, learning and willingness to admit when something has gone wrong without fear of reprisals from employers. Once embedded this will inevitably lead to a less adversarial system and better outcomes for healthcare professionals and patients alike.’
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