So why is there such an increase? It is probably a combination of three factors:
1. Since the dismantling of the Legal Aid scheme and introduction of ‘no win no fee’ agreements more people can afford to employ a lawyer to investigate a medical mishap.
2. There was a rush of claims just before April 2013 when a change to the rules meant that the NHS no longer had to pay a success fee if the claim was successful. If clients were signed up after then, the success fee came out of their compensation.
3. There are many new entrants to the market (Solicitors with little experience of these claims) who are taking on cases and lodging claims that have not been properly investigated.
There was always going to be a blip for reasons ‘1’ and ‘2’ above. That will work its way through. However, the increase attributable to the new entrants is very unpredictable. They have entered the market because the Government has reduced their fee income from Road Traffic Accident work. They see medical claims as a way of replacing their lost income and keeping their paralegals employed.
We have been doing this type of work in the Teesside County Durham and North Yorkshire region for over 20 years and we have not seen the standard of medical practice drop dramatically over this period. Generally the level is good. Mistakes will always happen – it is human error, and no amount of form filling, privatisation or retraining will eradicate these lapses.
It’s the new entrants that everybody should be worried about:
The injured patient; because they have put their case in the hands of a non-specialist
The NHS; because they have to investigate claims that have not been properly risk assessed.
The specialist medical lawyers; because the new entrants are giving us a bad name.
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.
We are always keen to support our staff both inside and outside the office and so we offer congratulations to one of our Partners, Hilton Armstrong, for completing the Stokesley Short Course Duathlon on 23rd March. This consists of a 3km run, 17km bike ride and finally another 3km run.
The first race of the season for Hilton he came an impressive 12th out of 98 entrants, 10th out of the 55 Men in the race. He hopes to improve his position as the season continues, telling us “Running let me down, as usual..” Sadly he is not quite as fast when it’s his turn on the mid-morning coffee run!
From 01/10/2013 there will be some significant changes to our firm, although please rest reassured that this will cause no disruption to our existing clients, to any new clients or the way in which claims are managed. There are 4 main changes:
Firstly, our current trainee Andrew Walker will qualify as a solicitor and has accepted a position with our firm where I am sure he will become a valued asset.
Secondly, as many of you will already be aware Peter Foulkes, one of the firm’s founding partners is leaving after 39 years practising law. We wish him a long and happy retirement.
Thirdly, the firm will become a Limited Liability Partnership [LLP] named Armstrong Foulkes LLP. This will have no effect on any on-going claims and it is simply a status change. Many professional organisations; lawyers, dentists and stock brokers, have taken this step.
Finally, due to Peter Foulkes’ retirement there will be a change in the way the firm is organised and both my colleague Ashleigh Holt and I will become Partners in the new Armstrong Foulkes LLP along with the remaining founding partner, Hilton Armstrong. As Ashleigh and I have both trained at this firm we have always been very committed to it and are now proud to have the opportunity to play a part in its future growth and progression.
Should any of our clients, or prospective clients, have any questions or concerns about any of these changes please do not hesitate to contact myself or any other solicitor in the firm who would be happy to discuss matters with you.
This year marks 21 years in business and as we celebrate the firm “coming of age” we hope that you share in our excitement for the future of Armstrong Foulkes LLP.
Partners: Hilton Armstrong, Joanne Dennison and Ashleigh Holt. Armstrong Foulkes LLP is a limited liability partnership registered
in England and Wales (registered number OC385318) which is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
A list of members' names is available for inspection at our registered office Cleveland Business Centre, Watson Street, Middlesbrough, TS1 2RQ.
The word 'partner' refers to a member of the LLP who is a solicitor in England and Wales. We have a Legal Aid Franchise for Clinical Negligence work.