The spiralling legal costs that could be avoided by NHS Trusts.
NHS Trusts that dismiss genuine victims of medical negligence are costing the organisation millions of pounds, claims a regional legal expert.
Reacting to a BBC report out this week, Wilkin Chapman senior solicitor Jonathan Baker is concerned that some Hospital Trusts reject treatment concerns raised by clients, along with attempts at early resolution of a claim by solicitors.
This, he pointed out, leads to spiralling costs on both sides before the cases are subsequently resolved – however by then the mounting costs must be met by the NHS, as well as agreed out-of-court settlement figures.
Jonathan, a medical negligence specialist, was critical of some Trust representatives, who – in his words – have ‘dismissed clients’ viable concerns about the treatment provided which leads to legal intervention and a claim’.
The BBC, via a Freedom of Information request, has revealed how the NHS in England faces paying out £4.3bn in legal fees to settle outstanding claims of clinical negligence. It adds how, each year, the NHS receives more than 10,000 new claims for compensation. Jonathan believes that it is the handling of some of these claims that sees far higher legal costs then may be necessary.
“In this report the Department of Health has pledged to tackle what it says is an ‘unsustainable rise in the cost of clinical negligence’ and in my experience there is an obvious flaw in how some of these cases are dealt with,” said Jonathan.
He explained how he has dealt with situations where he has made early attempts to discuss cases with Defendants when little costs have been incurred, which have been rejected immediately. That has been followed by spiralling costs as the involvement of expert evidence, barristers, and then the court process becomes needed.
In one case, said Jonathan, all offers to settle had been rejected, leading to the issuing of court proceedings and even more costs on both sides.
“It was at that stage that, instead of filing a Defence, an old offer was then accepted. Is this really the best use of NHS money?” asked Jonathan.
He continued: “When you look at the latest NHS Resolution Annual Report, you will see that legal costs for Claimants have actually been going down for the last two years. It is the Defendants’ legal costs that are going up. Could this be because they are dismissing/defending meritorious claims?
“Whilst it is correct that 70 per cent of claims don’t end up at a Trial, a case will take years to get to that point and should be resolved long before that. Sometimes it’s only when we start Court proceedings that the claim is then taken seriously, and by that time the costs have spiralled.”
In the BBC report, said Jonathan, there also seemed to be some criticism levelled at those people who rightfully claim compensation due to the ‘negligent treatment’.
“The NHS is a public body for which we contribute towards and as such we should expect to receive reasonable treatment. It is only when that treatment falls below that standard and it causes an otherwise avoidable injury that people should be compensated. They are compensated for their injuries and losses specifically because of that negligence, nothing else,” said Jonathan.
“Time and time again people come to us expressing frustration that they can’t get any answers without us – through complaints etc. but feel guilty about contacting us. Those who have been harmed by negligent treatment should be entitled to seek redress for the sometimes lifelong impact that it has had upon them. I am of the view that bringing claims helps lessons to be learned and drives up standards for the future to avoid it happening again,” he added.