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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 March, 2004, 01:01 GMT
Compensation culture under fire
Steven Byers
Mr Byers: Money taken away from saving lives
Compensation claims against public sector services are crippling health and schools, the former Cabinet minister Stephen Byers has warned.

New figures show claims against schools have risen to 200m a year - enough to pay for about 8,000 new teachers.

Similarly, NHS medical error claims have risen from 1m in 1974 to 477m in 2003 - equal to 22,700 extra nurses.

Mr Byers said that the "compensation culture" was only benefiting lawyers and accident firms.

The backbench MP for North Tyneside said something was badly wrong when legal action so badly hits "good quality schools and a decent healthcare".

"Money is being taken away from saving lives and educating our children to pay for a compensation system in which the real beneficiaries are the lawyers and accident management companies," he warned.

'Claim and gain'

The former minister will propose "no fault" compensation schemes for the health service and schools at a conference in Birmingham on Wednesday.

He is expected to suggest the initiative would set financial limits to settlements or introduce a "social contract" in place of financial settlements.

"Perhaps a new system avoiding the legal process but one which provides lifelong care and assistance when appropriate without fault needing to be proven," he will say.

"This could be alongside an effective public complaints procedure and disciplinary action against staff if necessary."

Mr Byers will also call for greater control over advertisements that make misleading claims to accident sufferers.

"There has been little public debate about the growth in this blame, claim and gain culture. Yet the consequences for our society are dramatic.

"We see it with playground equipment being fenced off; hanging baskets being taken down as a health hazard; teachers being advised to no longer supervise school outings.

"For the well-being of our society this is a state of mind that must change," he is expected to say.

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