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The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"When a doctor makes a mistake it takes an average of five years for a claim to be settled"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 10 July, 2001, 10:41 GMT 11:41 UK
'Faster, fairer' NHS compensation
Operating theatre
Medical negligence claims cost the NHS a fortune
The government is planning major changes to the way compensation is paid to patients injured in clinical blunders.

Ministers are keen to find ways to reduce the cost of medical negligence claims against the NHS, which are spiralling.

Much of the money is going to lawyers - in almost half of all claims legal costs are higher than the amount patients receive.

The current system does not work either for patients or for staff

Alan Milburn
Another aim is to cut the time it takes for claims to be settled - at present the average is 5.5 years.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn announced on Tuesday that Chief Medical Officer Professor Liam Donaldson would chair a committee to look at suggestions to make the system faster and fairer

Proposals to be considered include:

  • A no-fault compensation system under which patients would receive payouts without the need to attribute blame
  • Structured settlements, so that instead of a lump-sum, patients would receive periodic payments over time based on their future needs
  • Schemes with fixed tarriffs for specific injuries
  • Greater use of mediation to resolve disputes
The committee, which will include clinicians and patient representatives, will consult on the proposals with interested parties so that a White Paper, setting out the government's reform programme, can be published early next year.

'Does not work'

Mr Milburn told the BBC: "The current system does not work either for patients or for staff.

"It can take absolutely ages to get a claim settled, and very often we end up paying more out in legal fees than we do in damages to patients.

"So many people in the health service have said to me unless we get the lawyers off the back of doctors we will never have an NHS which can say sorry and which can admit mistakes."

Mike Stone
Mike Stone says many people just want an apology
Mike Stone, director of the Patients Association, told BBC News Online that he would welcome reform of the compensation system.

"The current system is slow, laborious and does no favours for patients or the medical staff who have allegations made against them."

However, Mr Stone said many people did not want financial compensation, but simply an expression of regret over what went wrong.

He said: "We do not want a culture of compensation. That money comes out of NHS budgets and could be used for clinical matters."

Doctors' representative

The Medical Defence Union, which represents doctors accused of medical errors, also welcomed plans for reform.

Dr Frances Szekely, a senior medical claims handler, told BBC News Online: "We are in favour of anything which reduces costs and speeds up the process - that has to be good both for our members and for patients."

The MDU also wants to see an end to the current system of basing compensation payments on the cost of providing patients with on-going private treatment.

Instead, the MDU believes patients should receive a payment to recognise their pain and suffering, and to cover any other costs associated with their medical problem.

But it believes the cost of treatment should be based on NHS rates, and paid to the treasury and not directly to the patient.

But lawyers disagree with the government's proposals for fixed tariffs.

A similar system for criminal injuries has been heavily criticised by the legal profession, who say it short-changes the victims.

And they say the proposed NHS changes will mean sufferers will get less.

Mattias Kelly, chairman of the Bar Council's public affairs committee, said the current system was slow because the NHS fought even the most "absurd" points in detail.

"There was a culture of delay, and it was attributable to the NHS which simply was not prepared to face up to a situation where it had incompetently treated someone and caused them serious injury."

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15 Feb 01 | Health
Medical accidents - unstoppable?
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