The number of clinical negligence claims against the NHS has fallen by almost 5% in the past year, new figures have revealed.
The NHS Litigation Authority 2015/16 annual report states that the authority received 10,965 new clinical negligence claims last year, compared with 11,497 in 2014/15.
The number of non-clinical claims also fell, from 4,806 to 4,172 in 2014/15.
The figures cast new light on the ongoing debate about fixed recoverable fees being introduced for clinical negligence claims up to £250,000, which the government is currently working towards.
Campaigners for fixed fees have pointed to the increasing volume of claims against the NHS since the Jackson reforms restricted other types of personal injury claim in 2013. Opponents will suggest the latest figures show that the number is levelling out.
The NHSLA closed an identical number (16,459) of claims in 2015/16 as it did the previous year. Cases resolved without the payments of damages is higher than ever before, with 4,935 claims not requiring any compensation in 2015/16.
In 2008/09 that figure was just 2,373.
The authority said it has continued to cut costs in 2016, developing a larger in-house litigation team and instructing external solicitors at agreed hourly rates or fixed fees.
On claims where the damages are below £100,000, average legal costs as a percentage of the total claim are steadily rising. Ten years ago, claimant costs constituted 35.2% of the value of the claim. This year they were recorded at almost 55% of the claim.
The NHSLA said it continued to target overcharging by claimant law firms, challenge bills and in some cases report poor practice to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
This year the authority says it has more than doubled the provision arising from indemnity schemes operated on behalf of the NHS and Department of Health, from £28.6bn to £56.4bn.
This is largely down to the change in the long-term discount rate set by HM Treasury, designed to recognise the value of money over time.
The value of new claims received that are expected to settle in the future amounts to £2.5bn.
Helen Vernon, chief executive of the NHSLA, said the authority maintains a ‘good relationship’ with claimant lawyers and will work with that sector on the introduction of fixed fees.
‘There are opportunities to improve the claims process and deliver access to justice at a more reasonable cost,’ she said. ‘Our experience on the employers’ and public liability side, where fees have been fixed, provides evidence of this.’