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

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Sir: There is a serious debate to be had about the growth in claims of negligence against all professionals, but it is nonsense to claim that the Law Society takes the view that there should be more, not less, litigation. We have a long record of supporting alternative methods of resolving disputes.

In particular, there is a clear need for less litigious ways of solving disputes about medical accidents. The Society has put that view forward to Lord Woolf's review of civil justice and has held discussions with the BMA. What is required is a system that satisfies the patient's wish for an apology and explanation (and compensation in appropriate cases) while not crucifying the doctor.

Ms Toynbee asserts that only 12 per cent of medical negligence claims succeed, but the chairman of the Legal Aid Board recently reported that 66 per cent of medical negligence claims that come to court are successful. Claims with a poor chance of success are weeded out by solicitors at an early stage without reaching the courts.

Ms Toynbee complains that solicitors have put up posters that draw attention to the right to claim for compensation. She misunderstands the purpose of these. Research shows that as many as 70 per cent of accident victims may not realise their right to claim compensation and few appreciate that most who cause accidents have insurance to cover claims. This public information service has been encouraged by NHS Trusts, who earn money from the placing of advertisements. Would NHS Trusts allow these advertisements if they merely encouraged claims for medical negligence against themselves?

Yours faithfully,

Phillip Sycamore

The Law Society

London, WC2