Employers to pay NHS for treating job injuries

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People who suffer injury at work because of negligence will no longer be treated free on the NHS, ministers announced yesterday. Instead, employers responsible for causing the injury will be required to pick up the bill.

People who suffer injury at work because of negligence will no longer be treated free on the NHS, ministers announced yesterday. Instead, employers responsible for causing the injury will be required to pick up the bill.

The proposed scheme, which would need legislation, was expected to raise £220m a year for the NHS, the Health minister David Lammy said. Accident victims would not pay the charge and would not be asked whether they intended to claim compensation.

Unveiling a consultation document, Mr Lammy said employers responsible for causing an injury should meet the cost of treating it, as well as paying compensation to the injured person.

The principle is already established by the arrangement under which the NHS claims the cost of treating road accident victims from the insurers of the responsible driver. That scheme has been in place for 70 years but was tightened in 1999 and now raises £100m a year for the NHS. Mr Lammy said: "Wrongdoers should meet the costs of their actions in full. Extending the recovery of NHS costs to all personal injury claims will remove the burden from general taxpayers of subsidising part of the costs of a wrongdoer."

He added: "This scheme will not introduce any more regulations for business but it is unacceptable that taxpayers have to pay for the medical treatment of someone injured at work simply because employers fail to take adequate steps to protect their workforce. By having to bear the cost of treating those injured in the workplace employers will have another incentive to reduce risks to their workforce and the public at large."

Hospitals would be entitled to keep any money they recovered. Mr Lammy pledged it would "not get swallowed up by NHS bureaucracy or Treasury coffers".

He added: "In line with our decision to devolve power away from Whitehall to frontline NHS staff, individual hospitals will recover the costs and decide where they want to reinvest that money to improve services."

The Trades Union Congress welcomed the move. The deputy general secretary Brendan Barber said: "Making the perpetrator pay would increase the incentive for prevention." However, the TUC conference concluded yesterday that the NHS was among the employers guilty of putting at risk the health of their staff.

The Association of British Insurers warned that the move would lead to increased costs. A spokeswoman said: "We need to assess the cost of the proposals but inevitably it could lead to premium increases and the consultation paper itself suggests this could be 7 per cent. Employers' liability insurance has risen 50 per cent in the past year because of an increase in claims. This proposal is going to add to the pressure and if it leads to a further increase in costs the customer will have to bear that cost."

The proposals for making employers liable for the costs of treating work-related injuries have been drawn up on the recommendation of the Law Commission. Research by the Health and Safety Executive showed that an insurance system that offered reduced premiums for improved health and safety could change business behaviour.

The consultation period ends on 8 November. The change would require primary legislation, which would be subject to finding parliamentary time and agreement, the Department of Health said.

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