LETTER : Medical negligence: suing for compensation, or just saying sorry?

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Sir: Polly Toynbee is right to highlight the risk of clinical negligence claims swallowing increasing amounts of NHS cash better spent on patient care ("Legal leeches are bleeding the NHS", 28 February). But she missed a number of recent developments.

A scheme for trusts has been set up to help manage clinical negligence liabilities. It will smooth out the impact of big claims - and build an expertise in handling complex casework. We need NHS gamekeepers to keep the smart legal poachers Ms Toynbee fears firmly at bay. Pilot studies of mediation techniques as an alternative to court action are also under way.

And a new complaints procedure, based on the Wilson committee report, comes into effect on 1 April - no longer the three-month wait for the cursory reply from a faceless official. Now, chief executives will have to handle complaints personally, within tight deadlines.

Saying sorry quickly is the right way to convince patients that their views are being taken seriously and that the NHS is prepared to learn lessons when things do go wrong.

Yours etc,

Gerald Malone

Minister for Health

Department of Health

London, WC2

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