The NHS Litigation Authority has released figures for 2011 suggesting that the cost of litigation for both medical negligence and injuries caused by accidents to visitors and staff while on NHS property has risen sharply since 2010 and the figures have caused considerable comment by concerned bodies.
The relatively new authority was set up to oversee all types of personal injury claims made, whether they were due to negligent inpatient care or poor safety standards in hospitals and other NHS facilities.
The authority’s figures showed that 1.25 billion pounds was paid out in 2011, compared to 863 million pounds in 2010 for all successful compensation claims. The amount paid out for general claims i.e. those not relating directly to patient care was comparatively minor at 52.4 million pounds. In total, the figures represent claims made by just over 13,000 people – a figure which has shown an increase from the previous year from 10,726.
The authority did not directly comment on the reasons for the increase in claims payments when the figures were released, but a spokesperson for the NHS suggested that the increase may be due to a more streamlined and efficient claims procedure used by the NHS for negligence claims and a possible upsurge in litigation preceding the introduction of more stringent personal injury claims conditions to be introduced in 2013. The role of the litigation authority is to speed up and streamline claims procedures so it is possible this in itself was partly the cause of the rise in litigation costs experienced.
The spokesperson also said quite unequivocally that, where claims were proved, there was room for tolerating an unsafe modern national health service and people who had suffered from any sort of medical negligence or malpractice were perfectly entitled to make claims for compensation
The spokesperson went on to say that the vast majority of patients who obtained NHS care “received good quality safe and effective treatment”
The Medical Defence Union (MDU) was not so happy about the rise in litigation costs and its chief executive, Christine Tomkins, said that the apparently growing bill was “unsustainable”. She said that some other industrialised countries like Australia and the USA had acted to limit the cost of compensation claims made against their respective health services, but did not state whether this was by means of a better service that provided safer health treatment or legislative means that limited personal injury claims.