Are the Rising Costs of Medical Negligence Claims Justified?

The number of medical negligence claims is on the rise, with the NHS receiving 8,500 claims last year, an increase of more than 30 per cent compared with the years 2009/10. The costs to the NHS resulting from these claims is also spiraling and the health service is currently looking at an estimated bill of over £15 billion.

Medical negligence solicitors are in increasing demand, as people look to claim payments for insufficient or improper patient care. Some are critical of a proportion of these claims, arguing that too many people are claiming for less severe incidents and are successful only as a result of better legal services.

Superbugs which hit NHS hospitals a number of years ago have been identified as a trigger for the rising trend in patients’ complaints. Bugs like MRSA focused attention on the hygiene standards of the NHS, causing many to worry that rather than a centre for recovery, a hospital can also present a danger to health.

Part of the rising cost may also be due to lawyers’ fees resulting from those tempting ‘no win, no fee’ promises. It is estimated that a third of the payment received will go to the lawyer, as higher fees are needed to cover the costs of unsuccessful cases.

The improved quality of legal services in England may also contribute to the increase in costs of negligence claims. As more people are able to access quality legal representation, some may pursue claims for less serious incidents. A report by the Council of Europe found that England spends more on its justice system than any other European country, with a huge amount being made available for legal aid. Whereas the median in Europe for legal aid is €2.1 per resident, in England and Wales this rises to €45.7.

However, it may be that the NHS is making more mistakes and as such more people are claiming deserved payments. Cuts in the NHS budget may mean that corners are cut in patient care, and waiting lists lengthen. This will be exacerbated by the development of other bugs following the MRSA scare.

The largest payments are often those for incidents involving brain damage caused at birth as a result of clinical negligence and poor care. In addition to a lump sum, these victims receive ongoing payments, further increasing costs to the NHS. Rather than an increase in such cases, it is also possible that more historical cases are only now being settled. In September for example, an 18 year old woman received a payment totaling £5.5 million due to errors at birth which have led to irreversible brain damage.

The NHS provides a service for members of the public, and undue scare should not be caused by these figured. Instead, the pros and cons of pursuing a claim and its economic impact should always be closely examined, and it is important to ensure the quality and reputation of any legal representation.

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