Claimant legal costs for clinical negligence cases against the NHS fell by 5% last year, new figures have revealed.
NHS Resolution's annual report for 2018/19, published this week, shows that spending on claimant costs was £442.3m – a fall of more than £24m. The decrease comes as the government prepares to rein in legal spending with fixed costs for claims under £25,000, having repeatedly stated that costs are too high.
Meanwhile, defence legal costs increased by 8.3% in 2018/19 to £139.6m, which the NHSR explained was partly due to more activity on early investigation.
NHSR chief executive Helen Vernon said the organisation has undergone a ‘culture change’ in how it handles claims, demonstrated by the number of mediations increasing by 110% to 380.
She said: ‘The number of cases going into formal litigation has remained stubbornly more or less the same for well over a decade. We’ve been on a mission to change that.
‘We set ourselves a challenge to disrupt the traditional approach taken to clinical negligence claims, to encourage mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution.’
Addressing the fall in claimant legal costs, she added: ‘This, in part, is a feature of the increased focus on early investigation with investment in "upstream" initiatives such as early notification, to help get to answers sooner and keep claims out of court proceedings.’
In 2018/19 the NHSR received 10,678 new clinical negligence claims, five more than the previous year. Of the 15,655 claims settled in the year, 70.7% of these were settled without formal court proceedings (against 69.6% in 2017/18). The proportion of claims settled through legal proceedings was virtually unchanged year on year.
Damages payments to claimants in clinical claims went up 13.5% to almost £1.4bn, taking overall spending on medical negligence to £2.36bn.
Vernon said the basis on which compensation is awarded for high-value claims, with privately-funded care for life, has led to 'substantial' awards often in excess of £20m.
Gordon Dalyell, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, said the levels of compensation and static claims figures showed the NHS is still not learning from mistakes.
‘We all want to protect the health service but the simple fact is that an injured person’s needs are not reduced because the institution which caused the needless harm is so loved,’ he added. ‘The right for an innocent, injured patient to receive fair redress also must be preserved.’