Advising with empathy and experience

The financial implications of clinical negligence


A total of £4.3bn in legal fees looks set to be paid out by NHS in England to settle outstanding clinical negligence claims.

More than 10,000 new compensation claims are received by the NHS each year and the £4.3bn legal fees total includes all current unsettled claims and projected estimates of ones in the future.

Estimates published last year put the total cost of outstanding compensation claims at £83bn while NHS England's total budget in 2018-19 was £129bn.

All hospital trusts in England contribute to a central Clinical Negligence Scheme for Trusts, administered by NHS Resolution, which oversees clinical negligence claims and this funds the vast majority of claims and legal fees. It is expected that in 2019/20 English hospitals will contribute £1.9bn to the scheme.

Suzanne White, from the Association of Personal Injuries Lawyers, which believes the costs are driven by failures in patient safety, said people often had no intention of suing the NHS but they often found it hard to get satisfactory answers from the medical authorities and were left with no other option but to sue.         

She said: "What they want to do is find out what went wrong, why they have received these injuries and to make sure it doesn't happen to other patients."

Although only 10% of claims relate to obstetrics, they represent 50% of compensation, often because a child injured at birth will need lifetime care.

The Department of Health, which has pledged to tackle "the unsustainable rise in the cost of clinical negligence” denied that there had been any decline in patient safety and said: “Our ambition is for the NHS to be the safest healthcare system in the world.”

Chief executive of Action Against Medical Accidents (AAMA), Peter Walsh, said the government had taken a "short-sighted and somewhat cynical approach."

He said: "The NHS is not investigating incidents properly, recognising when it has harmed patients and seeking to compensate them fairly and promptly."

The AAMA also urged greater transparency by healthcare providers when things go wrong. The spokesperson added:  "It is vitally important that we learn from harm in order to improve patient safety."