The Department of Health is putting into place measures to ban personal injury firms from advertising in hospitals in England.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt confirmed over the weekend that his department will consult on changes to the NHS Standard Contract.
These changes will mean NHS trusts can no longer enter agreements under which law firms promote their services through marketing materials in accident and emergency units.
The issue has long caused controversy with critics saying it encourages firms touting for business to target vulnerable people with aggressive marketing techniques. Lawyers have argued they are simply looking for business where there are most likely to be people who have been injured through someone’s else negligence.
Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said the health service wants ‘lawyers out of hospital and doctors out of court’.
Hunt added: ‘I’m increasingly concerned that the presence of personal injury law firms in the NHS — some of whom are pursuing extremely aggressive and opportunistic tactics to win new business — is distracting for staff, and intrusive for patients and families.
‘Allowing these firms to advertise or base themselves in our hospitals goes against the spirit of what the NHS is all about. That’s why I’ve asked NHS England to take action to stop it.’
NHS England says it has received letters of complaint from patients and MPs on marketing tactics from lawyers in hospital, some reporting they have felt ‘intimidated’ by the presence of firms.
The ban could be brought into force later this year under proposals in NHS England’s 75-page five-year plan published on Friday.
That document outlines plans for the new practice called ‘Getting it Right First Time’, designed to drive improvement in 30 clinical areas. The idea of this proposal is to reduce complications and litigation to save £400m in 2017/18.
The NHS Litigation Authority, which changes its name to NHS Resolution this month, has been placed at the forefront of plans to address issues at the outset, with the revised body vowing to be more involved in incidents at an earlier stage.
NHS trusts have been asked to report all maternity incidents that are likely to result in severe brain injury in order to increase support for patients.
Helen Vernon, chief executive of NHS Resolution, said her organisation’s role is now extended beyond the remit of claims management.
‘In those rare cases which involve brain damage at birth, we will work with the family, healthcare staff and the trust, right from the start to ensure that we learn from what went wrong and share this rapidly across the NHS,’ said Vernon.
‘Increased support to the NHS in delivering candour in practice and in sharing learning for improvement will be coupled with a fresh approach to resolution which reduces the need for costly and stressful court proceedings.’