NHS negligence bill tops £1bn a year

Law Society warns cases being needlessly drawn out by health trusts as patients face cuts to legal aid

Indefensible legal claims for mistakes by doctors and nurses are being contested unnecessarily by "macho" NHS lawyers, the head of the Law Society warned as the bill for damages exceeded £1bn for the first time.

Linda Lee, the society's president, told The Independent on Sunday that court battles – and costs – over medical blunders were being drawn out by health trusts when they should settle early "for the good of the patient". She warned that plans by Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, to scrap legal aid for clinical negligence cases will limit access to justice for thousands of victims of botched operations and misdiagnosed illnesses.

Ministers are determined to halt "a rising tide of litigation" in the NHS, and will publish plans to abolish legal aid for all clinical negligence cases within weeks. Patients will be told to use "no win, no fee" lawyers instead.

The total annual bill for clinical negligence claims leapt by a third in 2010-11 to £1.04bn, up from the £770m paid out by the NHS Litigation Authority in 2009-10. However, legal costs on top of this amount for such cases topped £286m. One in 10 people who undergo treatment in hospital are victims of medical accidents, according to the Law Society.

Mrs Lee told The IoS: "One of the difficulties has always been that indefensible cases have been fought, and that increases costs. It is a sort of macho thing, [saying] 'I don't want to be seen to be culpable'. It is in everyone's interest to settle as quickly and as fairly as possible."

Last year, a quarter of all clinical negligence claims were funded by legal aid, with a third of legal aid cases brought on behalf of children. Mrs Lee said the removal of legal aid would increase "hurdles" for claimants. "I don't believe that people should say 'this is too expensive for the Government so they don't deserve their chance'."

She warned that mistakes could continue to be made if legal cases are not brought, as they put negligence in the spotlight. "Quite often changes have been brought about because of litigation. That might be the wrong way of doing things, but that's what happens. Litigation may be the only way to highlight negligence." More than 20,000 people have backed the Law Society's Sound Off for Justice campaign against legal aid cuts.

Andrew Lansley, the Secretary of State for Health, has ordered a further emphasis on safety to prevent medical mistakes from happening in the first place. But he also told MPs last week: "We need to try to offset a rising tide of litigation and cost associated with clinical negligence cases."

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "There are a number of reasons costs may have increased over the past few years, such as the cost of legal fees and the effects of court judgments that set legal precedents on how settlements should be assessed."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The teaser trailer has provoked more questions than answers
filmBut what is Bond's 'secret' that Moneypenny is talking about?
Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss