Health secretary Jeremy Hunt today confirmed that a new compensation scheme for maternity negligence claims should be in place from April 2019.
Following a consultation, the Deprtament of Health will develop the rapid redress and resolution scheme with the aim of improving safety and patients’ experience and reducing costs.
Work will continue over the coming months to design and refine the details of how the scheme can operate.
Hunt told the House of Commons today: ‘If we are honest, we don’t learn [from mistakes] at the moment. We can wait up to 10 years for a case to settle… this is an attempt to change.’
He later added: 'Really when people go to the law, we have failed. If we get this right - if we can be more open, honest and transparent with families earlier on - it will, I hope, mean many fewer legal cases, although I am sure that the lawyers will always find work elsewhere.'
The average length of time between an incident occurring and an award for compensation being made is 11.5 years, with the court having to wait until the injured child’s prognosis is clear to decide a full and final settlement.
Hunt has previously said he wants to end the ‘blame culture’ when things go wrong in the NHS, which can inhibit transparency. He hopes a new, voluntary, compensation scheme will act as an alternative to ‘costly’ legal processes.
More than 200 unique responses were received to a consultation held earlier this year on the issue, almost half from midwives and 33 from legal professionals.
The vast majority of respondents agreed the scheme should include early investigations, conducted by professionals independent of the trust involved.
The consultation discussed whether families should be provided with an early upfront payment, likely to be between £50,000 and £100,000 when avoidability can be established.
Most supported this, but some lawyers said the sums were not enough to meets the needs of victims and their families.
There was also disquiet from lawyers at the idea the NHS Resolution organisation should administer the scheme, with one respondent saying it was a potential conflict to give responsibility to the defendant in a possible civil claim.
The department announced it will also offer a discount on premiums for NHS trusts that take steps to improve the delivery of best practices linked to safety in maternity and neonatal services.
As part of proposals announced today, the government also wants coroners, rather than the trusts themselves, to investigate all deaths of babies stillborn at 37 weeks or more.
The government has set an ambition to halve the rates of stillbirths, neonatal and maternal deaths by 2025, having brought forward this target by five years.
Brett Dixon, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, said his group was keen to talk with ministers about getting the details of the redress scheme right.
'We support promises of early investigations, apologies, and shared learning in the proposed rapid resolution and redress scheme for severe birth injury, but the approach to damages is crude when compared to the proper assessment of a child’s needs which comes with litigation,' he said.
'The original proposed scheme would only pay 90% of an average court settlement. When damages for long-term need must be calculated carefully to meet their purpose, 90% of the average settlement would be far away from the correct level of compensation for most families.'