The Mail on Sunday has reused one of my blog post ideas, although it took them four years to do it.
Back in 2012 I wrote a series of blogs about the legal profession pursuing more and more claims against the NHS (you can see the posts by clicking on February and July 2012 in the Archive – “Legal Eagles or Vultures”, “Untold Pressure”, “Cold Comfort”).
At that time the NHS paid out £1 billion in compensation for mistakes on a total of 8,500 claims and the Public Accounts Committee were recommending tighter controls on legal fees. Needless to say nothing happened. Except it drew attention to the pot of gold to be found in legal fees.
Four years on there are more claims than ever and the total bill for compensation reached just under £1.5 billion in 2015/16. The grasping, ambulance chasing, no-win no-fee lawyers pocketed £418 million of that.
Surely the NHS could settle many of the claims much more quickly and cheaply without the intervention of lawyers, but to get to the truth quickly they would have to adopt a “no blame” approach to the staff involved. I can’t see why an independent complaints tribunal couldn’t resolve most complaints quickly without resort to the courts. There is currently an Ombudsman that could do this, but they don’t seem very effective. Firstly because of the NHS’s reluctance to ever admit to making mistakes and secondly, because it is in the interest of fee-chasing lawyers to drag out the process.
The Government could also help by outlawing “no-win, no-fee” legal agreements, which would make people think twice before pursuing a claim.
An apology and corrective action is all most reasonable people want, before they talk to lawyers. The lawyers would be poorer, but patients would not be dragged through years of anguish.
P.S. The Times newspaper picked this same storey up with even more alarming figures, taken from the NHS Litigation Authority annual report. The estimated future cost of negligence claims could be a staggering £50 billion. That is nearly half of the NHS annual budget !
These lawyers better hope they never get ill.