The NHS has paid out a record £1 billion in litigation claims in one year, it has emerged.
A surge in the number of claims made by NHS patients or their families led to the health service paying out £1.2 billion for its clinical negligence compensation bill between 2011 and 2012.
The payouts, which represent legal costs and compensation payouts, is a huge rise on the previous year when the bill was £863 million, the NHS Litigation Authority's (NHS LA) annual accounts show.
The bill for "non-clinical claims", which include payouts for people falling and hurting themselves on wet floors where there was no sign, was £52.4 million. Such claims could have been made by patients, staff or visitors.
The NHS LA, which was created to deal with claims from patients harmed while undergoing treatment as well as from staff and visitors, said the figure represents a surge in the number of claims between 2010 and 2011 - which were paid out this year.
In 2009 to 2010, there were 10,726 individual claims, but this jumped to 13,001 in 2010 to 2011.
In 2011 to 2012 this figure increased further to 13,761 - indicating that the compensation payouts for next year could rise higher.
Tom Fothergill, director of finance at NHS LA, said: "The financial year 2011 to 2012 has seen further increases in claims activity at every level of the NHS LA's work.
"We were able to close more claims than ever before, but the combined effect of sharply increased claims in recent years and a continuation of the growth in new claims received this year still resulted in there being more than 5% more claims open at the end of the year."
The Medical Defence Union (MDU) called for urgent legal reform to address the huge bill. Dr Christine Tomkins, MDU chief executive, said the current situation is unsustainable.
She said: "NHS damages payouts have increased substantially in the last year and in our experience of settling cases on behalf of our GP and independent practitioner members, we have even seen compensation awards exceeding £5 million.
"We have also seen claims in general practice rise significantly in number for each of the last two years.
"Large awards are usually a result of the cost of providing for future care or compensation for loss of earnings, or both. While patients should be compensated quickly and fairly when they have been negligently harmed, the massive cost to society cannot be overlooked.
"Awards are escalating much faster than price and wage inflation. Everyone has ultimately to bear the burden of paying for this. These rises in compensation are unaffordable and can't be allowed to continue, especially in the current economic climate, which affects us all.
"Many other countries such as the USA and Australia were forced to tackle the problem of unsustainably high compensation awards in the face of a compensation crisis. As illustrated by the figure of £1.2 billion from the NHS LA, awards are getting higher and higher and we should not wait for a crisis. We need legal reform now."
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies