It was recently reported in the national press that the Chief Executive of the NHS Litigation Authority has labelled costs of pursuing legal claims for clinical negligence as “taking money away from NHS care”. In her view “that is just wrong”. In fairness, she was referring to some very specific cases but it is still this very narrow interpretation of merely one of the demands on NHS funding which can be enough to deter patients from pursuing a claim for injuries they have suffered through no fault of their own.
It is not uncommon to speak to a potential new client and hear them say (in hushed tones) something alone the lines of “I’ve never done this before” or “I don’t really agree with making claims”. They can almost sound ashamed.
What concerns us as specialist medical claims lawyers is the implied suggestion that victims of medical negligence are the ones robbing the NHS and society of better treatment and care. There are many myths to dispel and we have simply picked out a few that should be taken into account when considering the other side of the argument:
- The suggestion that small claims often have no merit or are trivial is incorrect. In around 99% of cases an independent medical expert is needed to say that the standard of treatment was so poor and so bad that no competent medical professional would have acted in that way. It is not a low threshold. This is a very high standard of proof and the burden is always on the claimant to undertake these investigations and prove their case. If there was no case to pursue, we would not do so and when there is no case the Defendants do not pay out compensation or costs.
- The NHS is still not throwing its hands in the air often enough despite the recommendations for there to be a ‘duty of candour’ when mistakes and errors are made that fall outside of the realm of accepted practice. Quite often the costs we incur in a claim are a reflection of how the NHS responds to the allegations put to them. We look forward to an attitude of openness and transparency becoming the norm but we are simply not seeing this filter through yet.
- There is absolutely no evidence that if the cost of claims decreased that the money saved would be put back into treatment and care. The NHS is one of the UK’s largest employers and it has business interests and competitors like many other organisations.
- Finally, avoidable mistakes are still being made and in our practice we see daily reminders that the real cost is to the patients and their families.
At Armstrong Foulkes one of our lawyers will always be happy to speak to you about any injury which results from medical treatment and discuss with you the possibility of pursing a claim. Please feel free to call us on 01642 231110, e-mail us by completing the form on our Contacts page or drop into our office.
Ashleigh Holt – June 2014