By Vince Shore, Senior Solicitor and Clinical Negligence manager, Leeds
A CHANNEL 4 programme which was filmed in York Hospital focussed on the financial penalties and payments affecting Accident and Emergency departments.
The Dispatches programme, A&E’s Missing Millions was filmed at the hospital during a busy period in December at the time of a norovirus outbreak. It showed the experiences of staff and patients over a 24-hour period and, revealingly, it looked at the cost and consequence of financial penalties imposed on hospitals when government targets to treat emergency cases are missed.
In essence, it appears that £1 billion in funding has been withheld from hospital budgets in the period between 2010-2013. This is due to financial penalties imposed by the Government because hospitals are failing to reach specified targets for patient care.
I find this particularly interesting following the recent comments from Catherine Dixon, the head of the NHS Litigation Authority, who criticises the level of claimant solicitors’ costs. She has called for the Government to cap the level of claimants’ legal costs in clinical negligence claims, which could, she says, save the NHS £69 million per annum.
In a recent article in Claims Magazine, Ms Dixon stated: “Access to justice is important, and it is right that claimants’ solicitors are paid a fair amount for the work they do. But I would rather see the excessive amounts we’re spending on costs going into patient care.”
The article also mentions that the cost of compensation claims against the NHS last year reached £680 million, which included £196 million for claimants’ solicitors costs.
If those costs are compared with the level of the withheld funding, it puts into context the relatively small cost of providing access to justice. I think that it also weakens any suggestion that patient care could be significantly improved by diverting such costs back towards treating patients when dramatically higher amounts are being routinely withheld.
I deal with the victims of medical negligence every day. Often, they will be dealing with the distress and injuries they have suffered as the result of the treatment by NHS medics and carers for the rest of their lives. Surely, these people deserve good quality legal representation and compensation for the negligence they’ve suffered. Clearly it is contradictory that it is right and proper to impose financial penalties for failing to hit targets, yet failure to provide appropriate care should go unpunished and the victim uncompensated.