Accident victims must pay more

Police to charge 1,000 per cent more for official reports
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The Independent Online
Commercially-minded police forces have increased their charges for official reports supplied to road accident victims by more than 1,000 per cent.

At the same time NHS trusts are demanding more than pounds 100 for medical records which by law should cost pounds 10 plus a photocopying and postage fee.

Lawyers representing the victims said last week that the developments were a direct result of Treasury pressure on police forces and NHS trusts to become more cost-effective.

They fear the charges will encourage insurance companies to contest personal injury claims knowing that it is harder for clients to get the evidence they require.

One victim of a serious road accident in Bristol was made to pay pounds 650 for a police accident report which until recently would have cost pounds 48.

Ian Walker, of solicitors Russell, Jones and Walker, said the report had been "absolutely vital" to his client's case and that he had no option but to pay the Avon and Somerset police.

He said: "Forces are deciding that there's money to be made here. They say, `If we have done a specialist investigation report you will have to pay us a commercial fee for it.'

"This is something the police do as part of their normal functions of investigating road accidents. They have done the work anyway but have decided that, with money being tight, this is a good way to make some more."

Until the increased charges, forces would supply expert accident reports, along with police notebook records from the scene of the accident and statements from witnesses, for a standard fee of pounds 48.

The police accident investigator, who examines the scene of a crash to see if criminal proceedings should be brought, is able to determine the speed and direction of vehicles involved using mathematical formulae, measurements and photographs of the scene.

The police report can be crucial to a road accident victim claiming for a personal injury for which the insurance company disputes liability. The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers has produced a report citing 22 trusts and hospitals which it claims are overcharging for records.

Oxfordshire Health Services charges pounds 1 a page for copies of the medical records it holds.

Aintree Hospitals, in Liverpool, charges a standard fee of pounds 75 plus 25p a copy, for records.

Richmond, Twickenham and Roehampton healthcare trusts, in London, attempted to charge pounds 50 for records but reduced the fee to pounds 10 when threatened with legal action.

Kerry Underwood, a solicitor based in St Albans, Herts, said: "People are being charged exorbitant sums to obtain their records when they have had to pay for the treatment and the records through tax contributions in the first place."

Trusts are often unwilling to supply health records to solicitors if they fear the information is likely to be used in litigation against them. Paul Balen, of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, said it was "outrageous" that trusts were "openly flouting the law" by breaching the Access to Health Records Act 1991 which requires them to submit records for pounds 10 plus photocopying and postage.

"We need the Department of Health to tell the trusts that this is unlawful."

Derek Day, deputy director of the National Association of Health Authorities and Trusts, said: "Trusts have been costing out their services as part of their independent status. We would advise members to make sure that what they are doing is within the law."

The Department of Health says it is "trying to resolve the problem", while the Home Office said individual police forces were entitled to charge what they thought appropriate for specialist services.