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Thursday, 13 June, 2002, 13:07 GMT 14:07 UK
MPs attack NHS negligence bill
The government is reviewing the current system
MPs have called for urgent reform of the NHS complaints process as part of efforts to reduce a 4.4bn negligence bill.

A report by the Commons public accounts committee says the current system for dealing fails to deal with patients speedily and compassionately.

It found that many cases take more than five years to be resolved and 8% of cases over 10 years.


Patients and the taxpayer are crying out for a more intelligent approach

Edward Leigh MP
In many instances, the overall legal bill far exceeds the financial settlement awarded to patients or their families.

A report by the National Audit Office, published in April, suggested the NHS is currently facing a 4.4bn legal bill for medical negligence claims - up from 2.8bn two years ago.

MPs warned that unless reforms were introduced negligence cases would continue to drain the NHS of money.

They warned that they could also "reduce the impact of the increased funding for the NHS promised in the Budget".

The report calls for all NHS trusts to be required to sign up to the Department of Health's clinical negligence scheme.

Financial drain

Those signed up to the voluntary scheme have introduced basic risk management standards aimed at reducing the risk of mistakes.

According to MPs, a quarter of NHS trusts have yet to achieve these standards.

The report said more needed to be done to address the concerns of patients at an early stage.

"Patients can too easily and too quickly find themselves in a position where they have to seek legal remedies," it stated.

Conservative MP and committee chairman Edward Leigh said there was a need for change.


Compensation claims can take many months to resolve, often to no-one's benefit other than the lawyers

David Rendel
Lib Den MP
"The present system for dealing with claims against the NHS is inefficient and astronomically expensive.

"Patients suffer delay and an almost systematic lack of compassion.

Often they are effectively cornered into pursuing litigation and in more than six out of 10 smaller value cases the legal costs outweigh the compensation paid.

"Patients and the taxpayer are crying out for a more intelligent approach."

The Department of Health welcomed the report and said some of the findings would be fed into its review of the current system.

A spokesman said: "We welcome this report which contains much that will be helpful to the government and NHS in reforming the way clinical negligence claims are handled in the NHS.

Under review

"The Chief Medical Officer has been working on these reforms, taking the views from a wide range of experts, and we will publish the findings and recommendations soon."

The Liberal Democrats called on the Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson to examine the benefits of `no-fault' compensation for cases of alleged clinical negligence.

Lib Dem MP David Rendel, a member of the public accounts committee, said: "Compensation claims can take many months to resolve, often to no-one's benefit other than the lawyers.

"The legal costs can often exceed the amount eventually awarded to the patient.

"A no-fault scheme would result in faster compensation, would eliminate the subsidy to lawyers and would remove a major source of stress for both patients and medical staff. The Government must think again."

Dr Christine Tomkins Professional Services Director at the Medical Defence Union, which provides indemnity to many doctors, said: "Something needs to be done urgently to tackle both the rising costs and number of NHS negligence claims."

She added: "Doctors do make mistakes, but in our experience, many of these errors are due to systems failures and common pitfalls of practice and could be avoided if hospitals and trusts introduce robust procedures to correct mistakes before anyone is harmed."

See also:

24 Apr 02 | Health
24 Apr 02 | Health
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