Defence specialists have warned that the clinical negligence landscape is reaching a ‘tipping point’ where claimant payments are unsustainable.
The Medical Protection Society (MPS), which supports healthcare professionals subject to legal claims, says the cost of clinical negligence claims will reach £2.6bn a year by 2022 if figures continue to rise as they are.
The organisation is calling for immediate reform to redress the balance against society’s ability to pay, while still ensuring compensation is reasonable.
The MPS says last year’s £1.5bn spend on clinical negligence claims equates to the cost of training more than 6,500 new doctors. Spending has increased by 72% over the last five years to 2015/16.
Emma Hallinan, director of claims at the MPS, said tough decisions have to be made to strike a balance between supporting victims and the country’s ability to pay.
‘If the current trend continues the balance will tip too far and the cost risks becoming unsustainable for the NHS and ultimately for society,’ she said. ‘This is without doubt a difficult debate to have, but difficult decision are made about spending in healthcare every day and we have reached a point where the amount society pays for clinical negligence must be one of them.’
The reform package put forward by the MPS includes calculating damages through average national earnings rather than the patient’s wage, a tariff for future care costs set by an independent expert, and a minimum threshold for cash compensation relating to claims for minor injuries.
The MPS also proposes a cap on expert witness fees, bringing all clinical negligence claims under £5,000 in the small claims track, and the introduction of a 10-year limit between the date of an adverse incident and when a claim can be made.
The MPS wants the government to go further than the likely £25,000 limit for claims which are suitable for fixed recoverable fees. That contentious subject has been subject to consultation and is sitting with the Department of Health.
The DoH has taken steps in recent months to address clinical negligence costs, replacing the NHS Litigation Authority with NHS Resolution, and with it a new emphasis on early dispute settlement. While costs have been subject to discussion, ministers have shown no inclination to look at the issue of the level of compensation payments.
Peter Walsh, chief executive of the charity Action against Medical Accidents, said the MPS proposals ignore the main reasons for the high cost of clinical negligence to the NHS.
'These are firstly, the unacceptable number of negligent mistakes being made that ruin people's lives, and secondly the inappropriate denials and defence of claims which should have been recognised as valid much earlier. 'Collectively, they amount to either an ignorant or cynical attack on access to justice for injured patients.’