Hospital Dr News

Cost of clinical negligence grew to £1.6 billion in 2016–17 for NHS trusts

The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee says action is required by the government to address impact of clinical negligence claims on NHS resources.

Its report finds the annual cost of the clinical negligence for NHS trusts has quadrupled over the last decade from £0.4 billion in 2006–07 to £1.6 billion in 2016–17.

Despite long-standing concerns about these predictable rising costs, and their ability to take resources away from frontline services, the government has been disappointingly slow and complacent in its response, PAC says.

The report says there seems to be a prevailing attitude of defensiveness in the NHS when things go wrong, and a reluctance to admit mistakes, which is likely to be leading to more clinical negligence claims.

Furthermore, there is a lack of consistent data across the system means that the NHS still does not fully understand why some people suffering harm choose to make claims or the root causes of negligence, so it is not well placed to learn from its mistakes.

It is important that patients suffering as a result of clinical negligence are compensated and that lessons are learned but the mix of stretching efficiency targets, increasing financial pressures and patients waiting longer for treatment carries the risk of clinical negligence claims spiraling out of control.

The government needs to take bolder and more coordinated action to prevent this from happening, the report concludes.

PAC chair Meg Hillier MP said: “I am concerned that funding available for NHS services and the costs of clinical negligence are locked in a vicious spiral – one that without urgent action will spin out of control.


“The NHS must move more quickly to share best practice in the handling of harmful incidents and complaints. This should be a fundamental part of what remains a disappointingly slow-moving shift towards openness and transparency.”

The report recommends that the government takes urgent and coordinated action to address the rising costs, including the review of whether current legislation remains adequate.

Matthew Lee, MDU professional services director, welcomed the recommendation.

Lee said: “We have long argued that only radical legal reform will halt the rising costs of claims but recent legal changes have made the problem worse rather than better. For example, the change to the discount rate earlier this year when it dropped to its lowest in history, immediately doubled the cost of some claims. A high value claim previously worth around £8m may well reach over £17m now.

“The situation is particularly concerning NHS GPs as it affects them personally. They must meet the costs of indemnity themselves. We urge the government to quickly move forward with a coordinated policy approach. The law must be changed and clinical negligence claims must be funded in a fair and proportionate way.”

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