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a westminster imageDecember 5 2017

MPs have said “bold action” is required “to address impact of claims on resources available for frontline care and patients.”

A report by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee points out that the cost of clinical negligence grew to £1.6 billion in 2016-17, having quadrupled over the past decade. It has raised concerns over the lack of consistent data in the NHS relating to understanding both why mistakes happen and why people suffering harm choose to make claims.

“Despite long-standing concerns about these predictable rising costs, the government has been disappointingly slow and complacent in its response,” said the PAC. “There seems to be a prevailing attitude of defensiveness in the NHS when things go wrong, and a reluctance to admit mistakes, which is likely to be leading to more clinical negligence claims.”

It is calling on the Government to report back on progress to the PAC, initially by April 2018, and to implement sharing of best practice regarding handling of harmful incidents and complaints.

Committee Chair Meg Hillier MP said: “Of course it is important that patients who suffer because of clinical negligence are compensated. But Government has been far too slow to understand and get a grip on the increase in negligence costs.

“The NHS must move more quickly to share best practice in the handling of harmful incidents and complaints. This should be a fundamental part of what remains a disappointingly slow-moving shift towards openness and transparency. Whistleblowers in the NHS are too often seen as a problem—what’s needed is a more open culture so that mistakes are acknowledged and learnt from.

“But there is also a clear need for Government departments to work together to identify and act on the impact of changes elsewhere in government which could and should have been foreseen.”

Medical defence organisations have commented on the PAC announcement. Dr Matthew Lee, MDU professional services director, has welcomed the recommendation to review whether current legislation remains adequate. “It cannot come a moment too soon and we will be happy to contribute on behalf of members to the review by the Department of Health and Ministry of Justice,” he said.

“Payment of NHS claims under the current system diverts huge amounts of money from patient care and must not be allowed to continue. The situation is particularly concerning NHS GPs as it affects them personally. They must meet the costs of indemnity themselves. We urge the government to quickly move forward with a coordinated policy approach. The law must be changed and clinical negligence claims must be funded in a fair and proportionate way.”

Emma Hallinan, Director of Claims Policy and Legal at the Medical Protection Society, said the PAC was right to raise concerns about the rising cost of clinical negligence to the NHS. “We believe legal reform is needed to help achieve a balance between compensation that is reasonable, but also affordable.

“This must go hand in hand with continual improvements in patient safety to help prevent adverse events, and a shift to a more open, learning environment in healthcare where mistakes are routinely discussed and learned from.”

MDDUS chief executive Chris Kenny said: “We urge Government to tackle the drivers of increasing costs by reforming the law of tort and cost reform. In the absence of this, any other proposals, however welcome to individual groups, simply shuffle the deckchairs on the Titanic, rather than explode the growing negligence iceberg.”

Links:
PAC announcement         
MDU response   
MPS response    
MDDUS response               

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