Tuesday, July 6, 1999 Published at 13:28 GMT 14:28 UK
Doctors want no fault compensation
Hundreds of mistakes are made every day in hospitals
Doctors have called for a "no fault" medical negligence compensation system to speed up payments to victims of medical blunders.
The NHS is currently facing a £2.8bn bill for medical negligence claims and GPs are now 13 times more likely to be sued than they were 10 years ago.
Legal wrangling means that the average case takes six years to settle from the time a complaint is lodged and only 10% of victims ever see any compensation.
But payments have soared in recent years - in 1989, the biggest single payout was £770,000; in 1998, it was £1.7m.
Conference representatives backed a motion calling for the introduction of a no-fault scheme.
Woking representative Dr Dennis Newberry said: "The majority of patients who suffer from medical mistakes never receive any money.
"A few get significant amounts of money, but the only regular winners in this process are the lawyers."
He added: "The effective solution is to ensure that people get reasonable levels of compensation and remove the concept of fault - and the lawyers - from the process.
"The system is good for patients and good for doctors."
800 medical mistakes a day
Dr David Pickersgill, chair of the BMA's Medical Legal Committee, said recent research had shown that 800 medical mistakes are committed in hospitals in the UK every day.
More than 15,000 cases are currently at some stage in the legal process and the Medical Protection Society receives more than 1,000 calls a week from doctors worried they may be sued.
He said: "Personal injury claims and suing doctors has become an exponential growth industry amongst the legal profession.
"We cannot begin to imagine the stress and personal trauma and the anguish suffered by our colleagues who face legal action in these circumstances.
"This is one issue on which we can agree with (Health Secretary) Frank Dobson - NHS resources would be much better spent on improving patient care than settling legal claims."
Dr Pickersgill said: "Patients have a right to receive adequate levels of compensation, but we must find a more satisfactory way of delivering this than in the adversarial system of the courts."