Hospital Dr News

New cap proposed to limit the costs that lawyers can recover in NHS clinical negligence cases

The Government has announced that an expert group will be formed to work on introducing a new cap on the amount of costs that lawyers can recover in clinical negligence cases.

The proposed fixed recoverable costs scheme aims to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of clinical negligence claims.

Under the scheme, legal fees would be capped in cases of up to £25,000 and could help to save the NHS up to £45 million a year.

Dr Rob Hendry, Medical Director at the Medical Protection Society (MPS), welcomed the scheme:

“From the £1.7bn the NHS paid out on clinical negligence costs in 2016/17, legal costs accounted for 37% of that bill. It is right that we question whether such costs are sustainable for the NHS, and whether this amount of NHS money should be spent on lawyer fees.

“The creation of an expert group will help to drive a fixed costs scheme forward, ensuring the threshold and process for clinical negligence cases is considered and implemented swiftly.

But he added: “We had hoped to see a bolder decision on the threshold with cases up to the value of £250,000 included in a scheme, however a £25,000 threshold is a positive first step – one which we hope will be reviewed and possibly increased over time.”

The MPS can cite cases where legal costs exceed the award to claimant.

In one case involving a delayed diagnosis of a pituitary tumour which settled at £3,250, legal costs of £72,320 were sought. That was reduced to £24,600 after a provisional assessment last summer, which found that the bill was disproportionate.

The expert group will also consider how to facilitate quicker and more cost effective resolution for all parties. And, improve the opportunities for the early learning of lessons from harmful incidents to inform safer clinical practice.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “It’s a step in the right direction. It must surely be fair to cap the amount lawyers can charge for their costs, and we welcome the decision to set up a group to work on this – we trust that the Government will act quickly on its recommendations.

“We are also pleased that ministers have signalled their determination to tackle the wider issue of clinical negligence claims. The rising cost is now unsustainable and already means that vast resources that could be used by the NHS are being diverted elsewhere.”

Last month, a coalition of NHS organisations called for urgent action to reduce the £1.7 billion paid last year alone on medical negligence in England.

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