A number of recent and very publicised hospital scandals has led to an increase in the number of clinical negligence claims over the last year. Official figures reveal that there has been a rise of almost 20% in the last year, and a staggering 80% since 2008. It is estimated that the cost to the NHS for negligence payouts could soon reach £19 billion, which amounts to nearly a fifth of the total NHS budget.
According to experts, these figures correspond to a lack of tolerance for poor care. Combined with the fact that many hospitals refuse to apologise or explain why they failed, patients and their families feel that there is no other option but to take legal action.
The chief executive of the Patients Association, Katherine Murphy, said: “I think the public has become far less tolerant about putting up with appalling failings in care, but most only pursue legal action when every other avenue has failed. Most people who contact us say that all they wanted was an explanation of what went wrong, and changes made so that nobody else would suffer.”
While some bodies and government officials may be quick to criticise clinical negligence law firms for the amount of money which is being spent on such cases – over £1bn was spent on settlements last year alone – the fact is that clinical negligence lawyers would not be able to win these amounts for their clients unless there had been serious medical failings to begin with. The only way to reduce the bill to the NHS should be to stop repeating the same mistakes and to admit to mistakes earlier.
This is something that the Department of Health itself does seem to agree with, with a spokesman saying: “Whilst we know the vast majority of patients get good, safe care, the best way to reduce compensation claims is to improve patient safety further – and this is a priority.”
He went on to say that the NHS were working with Dr Don Berwick, a global expert, to seek advice on creating a “zero-harm culture in the NHS.”
It is expected that there will only be a further increase in the numbers of medical negligence claims in future years because of February’s public inquiry by Robert Francis QC into the failings at Mid Staffordshire Hospital Foundation trust. The inquiry found that there had been up to 1,200 more patient deaths than should have been expected at the hospital, many of which could have been avoided with the right care.
Whereas in the past, some patients or families of patients might have been more reserved about claiming against such a big public body as the NHS, this inquiry and its report have made the public much more aware about how shocking some of these cases of negligence are and that they shouldn’t go ignored. In many cases, patients and their families have suffered life-changing consequences as a direct result of medical negligence, with extreme financial difficulties, stress, anxiety and pain. Clinical negligence law firms cannot take this pain away, but they can help sufferers to improve their financial situation and see that justice is done.