The NHS Litigation Authority has announced a new mediation service to speed up the process for resolving claims.
In partnership with the Centre for Dispute Resolution, the service will offer a face-to-face discussion between the healthcare provider and the patient, supported by an independent and accredited mediator.
During the process, legal rights remain intact and either party can proceed to court if they are unhappy with the outcome.
The litigation authority says the scheme will be an independent and voluntary process for resolving claims against health authorities.
Chief executive Catherine Dixon (pictured) said: ‘We hope that it will help patients, their families and NHS staff resolve concerns quickly and cost-effectively whilst also enabling all the parties to meet to have their say without the need to go to court.’
According to the NHSLA website, fewer than 2% of cases it handles end up in court, but the mediation service is designed to ‘go further than just financial compensation’, offering non-financial outcomes such as apologies or explanations.
Claimants will be offered the choice of accredited mediator and can bring friends or family to provide support in person. A lawyer can also be present, though this is not obligatory.
The cost of claims has become a key issue for the NHS in recent years, with figures for 2013/14 showing that, of the £1.193bn spent on clinical negligence claims, 22% (£259m) was spent on claimant solicitors compared with 8% (£92m) on defence legal costs.
However Paul Sankey, clinical negligence specialist at Slater & Gordon was sceptical.
‘Mediation may well help some people resolve complaints about poor management in hospital,’ he said.
‘However patients and hospital staff do not meet on equal terms. Patients may have little understanding of the complex medical issues surrounding their care and if they need a legal remedy they will need legal assistance. If patients seek mediation as an alternative to seeking expert legal advice on claims they are likely to end up being sold short on their proper redress.
‘The idea that this is some shortcut to resolving disputes is fantasy.’