According to the National Health Service’s own legal department, the move by many personal injury compensation companies into clinical negligence work has resulted in an “unprecedented” rise in the number of new cases. In the NHS Litigation Authority’s most recent annual report, figures are revealed which shows that the number of clinical negligence claims in 2013/14 was almost 12,000 – up 18% on the just over 10,000 claims made in the previous 12 months.
What caused the rise in clinical negligence cases?
The NHS believes that the main reason for this rise is the fact that many general compensation claims companies have started to work in the clinical negligence market after seeing their profits from traditional work begin to slide. Clinical negligence work is one of the few areas of this type of law where solicitors and claims management companies can charge an hourly rate, and this combined with a reduction in the fixed costs which can be charged for motor related personal injury claims has driven more companies into the clinical negligence world.
As well as dealing with an increased number of cases, the NHS Litigation Authority also highlights the issue of an increasing number of claims which are poorly investigated and presented, or lawyers who are not specialist in clinical negligence trying to put forward claims for events which are not negligent at all.
There are also sharp practices on behalf of some of the legal firms, who charge many of their fees up front before notifying the NHS that a claim will be made. Legal companies do this because they know that as soon as the case is presented to the NHS, budgeting requirements designed to limit the cost of investigations begin to kick in.
In one of the most extreme cases, the NHS settled a claim for damages worth £1,000. The bill submitted by the claimant’s solicitors for the legal work on the case was £83,000. The NHS appealed the excessive costs, which were reduced to £5,000 on appeal. In a separate case, the claimant’s solicitors were trying to get away with an hourly rate of £1,440.
The Head of the NHS’s Litigation Authority, Catherine Dixon, said that out of the total bill of £1.193 billion spend on clinical negligence, 22% was spent on claimant’s costs compared with 8% in defence costs for the NHS. Ms Dixon felt that these figures were a clear indication of excessive costs and said that the NHS had a responsibility to challenge costs wherever necessary.