What is the true cost of sub-standard medical care across the UK?
It has today been revealed that NHS trusts have paid out more than £4.5 billion over the past five years to compensate for medical mistakes. Of that figure, bills at just 20 NHS trusts totalled more than £1.1bn.
The high figures have predictably led to calls for the cost of legal pay-outs to be reduced, claiming it is a major burden on the NHS.
As medical negligence experts handling claims for victims of sub-standard care, we at Hudgell Solicitors entirely agree. The cost to the NHS of compensation cases linked to sub-standard care is far too high, and needs to be reduced.
However, it is how it is reduced from this point which is key.
The Government is currently looking to introduce a £100,000 cap on legal costs in cases in a bid to cut the cost to the NHS. A formal consultation will be launched on this in the autumn, with the Government claiming the cap will save £80million a year.
However, such a move is entirely flawed, and completely ignores the real issues at hand.
Will the cap on legal costs improve the standard of NHS care at Trusts across the country?
Will such a move help reduce the number of avoidable errors being made on hospital wards and theatres across the UK, and lead to less people needing the representation of medical negligence lawyers?
The answer to both questions, in my opinion, is no.
Legal changes around health care should never be carried out simply to protect the public purse.
Given the current stance of the NHS in most cases – which is to deny errors and force patients down a legal path – the move could leave many who suffer injuries through sub-standard medical care unable to find the legal support they need to rebuild their lives.
The cap will simply leave lawyers unable to fully investigate matters on their behalf when faced with a wall of denial by NHS bodies.
Such a move is only likely to put less scrutiny on the NHS and the errors it makes going forward. Cases would not be investigated as they are today, mistakes would still not be admitted, and lessons would not be learned.
It must be stressed that legal costs are often much higher than they need be due to the reluctance of NHS Trusts to accept liability at an early stage.
Rather than hold up their hands, they often deny responsibility in clear-cut cases from the onset, forcing matters down lengthy legal procedures as legal teams investigate and seek independent medical opinions and evidence on behalf of their clients.
Using official Government figures, the trusts with the highest legal pay-outs over the past five years to March 31 2014 were:
* Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospital NHS Trust – £79 million
* The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust – £78.3 million
* Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust – £75.4 million
* Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust – £71.6 million
* Baits and the London NHS Trust – £62.8 million.
Interestingly, of the huge amounts of money paid out from medical negligence cases against the NHS, about a quarter was paid to law firms to cover legal costs, and most of the rest in compensation to patients harmed by medical blunders.
And in a list published today of the law firms claiming the most in costs from the NHS linked to medical negligence cases, seven of the 10 firms named were actually representing NHS Trusts in defending claims, not representing clients.
Through an approach of denial, the NHS pushes up legal costs on both sides.
Peter Walsh, chief executive of the charity Action against Medical Accidents, said “Millions could be saved if there were more honesty and earlier admissions of liability.”
That is something we agree with entirely. If the NHS wants to save money, the starting point needs to be focussed around reducing medical errors across the board, and not needlessly dragging cases through the full legal process when it is clear there has been sub-standard care.
At Hudgell Solicitors, we make no excuse for putting the lives of our clients, and their families, first.
The compensation we secure for our clients, no matter how big or small, is never anything other than what they deserve and need to help them adapt to living with the consequences of sub-standard medical care.
The only issue we have is how long it often takes us to secure admissions of liability, and compensation, for our clients. Quicker admissions make for speedier access to key rehabilitation for patients, lower legal costs, and hopefully improved systems and procedures on hospital wards across the country.
Only when this is achieved will the need for legal representation be lowered.