Advising with empathy and experience

News and Events

NHS mistakes - paying the price.

View profile for Kim Daniells
  • Posted
  • Author

Recent media reports claim that payouts given to NHS patients who have been victims of negligence should be reduced because they are "unsustainable". The claims are being made by various organisations involved with the health service. They include the Academy of Medical Royal colleges but also the defence unions who represent GPs and doctors in the private sector. Their claim is that money that is being put by to cover current claims could be spent on frontline care, reducing pressures on the NHS.


There can be no doubt that the compensation paid to victims of medical negligence is a significant drain on resources. However the compensation system in England and Wales is not inherently a generous one. The current system provides relatively basic levels of compensation for physical and psychological injury and simply seeks to cover reasonable financial losses and costs that are incurred as a consequence. The principle used by the Courts is to try to put the victim back into the position they would have been in had negligence not occurred.


Cases which attract the highest payouts are those where the damage is most significant. This includes claims for babies who have suffered brain damage at birth as a result of negligence, and who need lifelong care as a consequence. The higher awards also include claims  for those whose devastating injury leaves them unable to work or in need of round-the-clock care for the rest of their lives.


In the absence of sufficient compensation these individuals, injured as a result of failings of others, have no means of maintaining their financial security or obtaining the care that they need. In many cases where a substantial award of compensation is paid, those injured patients use of most of their compensation in meeting their very considerable needs.


Most of our clients who embark upon claims against the NHS, do so reluctantly. They do not want to take funds out of the NHS. They value the NHS. However they are having to deal with the reality of a life that may have been irreparably damaged by the failings in care. In the worst cases, our clients may be facing a life without a loved one purely because of a negligent medical error.


Our view is that the suggestion of reduced compensation is neither fair nor effective. It would leave injured patients without the help they need, and would force the most severely injured to become more reliant on those struggling services.


All of us who use the NHS want to see improved safety in NHS care.  We want an NHS that prevents the negligent mistakes in the first place and that is able to learn from previous errors. Ultimately, it is only by improved safety that injuries, claims and compensation can be fairly and sustainably reduced.


Clearly, the pressures, financial and otherwise, upon the NHS are very significant. With demographic changes, and advances in medical science, those pressures are bound to increase. All those who work in and use the NHS must be involved in a national conversation about the challenges and the options to resolve them. These challenges require innovative solutions. The answer cannot be to expect the victims of NHS negligence to pay to make it safer for patients.