October 17, 2016

RWK Goodman responds to news of birth injuries compensation scheme

Medical negligence specialists at RWK Goodman have cautiously welcomed today’s announcement of a new Government birth injuries compensation scheme, but warn that adequate care costs will need to be covered and valuable lessons learned, if it is to stand any chance of success.

The new Rapid Resolution and Redress scheme is now out for consultation, but RWK Goodman urges caution, warning that it may be more closely linked to the Government’s drive to fix the costs of medical negligence claims, rather than improving the care of expectant mothers and their babies before, during and after birth.

Paul Rumley, a partner and medical negligence specialist at RWK Goodman, said: “We cautiously welcome any new process designed to ensure that injured children are compensated quicker and medical mistakes are learned from and not repeated. However, as always, the devil is in the detail and we look forward to receiving information on exactly what is being proposed, how it will benefit injured children and their families and how it will be funded.”

Mr Rumley continued: “One consideration is that the scheme may not provide sufficient funding to enable families to buy the appropriate level of support they need for their child’s care, not just in the short-term but potentially for the rest of their lives. In light of funding cuts for such care, the risk is that a compensation claim through the courts will still be a more attractive option for many.

“Another area of discussion needs to be around the timing of the compensation. While a quicker and more efficient system is to be welcomed, there are sometimes very good reasons for taking 10 years or more to evaluate the extent of a child’s injuries so that an appropriate care package can be agreed which effectively addresses their lifetime needs.”

Mr Rumley also points out that the proposed level of funding for improving the safety of maternity care is ‘woefully inadequate’ and if that is a reflection of the likely level of funding for this new scheme then it  will be ‘doomed to failure from the start’. He added: “In my view, the Department of Health would be better off focussing on how to reduce the number of medical mistakes being made in the NHS and in so doing, increase patient safety and prevent compensation claims arising. The fact that the number of claims is escalating at such a rapid rate is the real scandal which the Government and the NHS urgently need to address.”

What Is the Truth About The Costs of Medical Negligence Claims?

All too often, lawyers are blamed for the high costs associated with bringing claims for compensation to pay for the care of people injured as a result of medical mistakes, including children injured as a result of negligence before, during or after their birth.

RWK Goodman has hit back, calling for a transparent review into the way the Government-funded NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) deals with legal claims from victims of medical negligence and the role they play in driving up costs through their own inefficiencies and ‘stalling tactics’.

Mr Rumley said: “We deal with a lot of high value brain injury and child birth injury claims which are typically dealt with by periodical payments. These are annual payments paid by the NHSLA to victims of medical negligence to cover the costs of their care, therapies and rehabilitation during their lifetime. A large proportion of the compensation we secure for our clients is in the form of periodical payments which are not included in the figures released by the NHSLA recently. If they were included, the figures would show that the monies paid out to our clients far exceeds the amount we recover in fees.  Our own figures show us that the total amount of compensation recovered for all clients in 2015 was in fact approximately 10 times the figure set out by the NHSLA.

“By way of example, we settled a case in June 2015 on behalf of a nine-year-old boy for severe brain injuries which occurred as a result of errors by medical staff during his birth. The boy’s compensation award included a lump sum of £2,675,000 plus periodical payments of £150,000 per annum for his care until he was 19 years old and £201,800 per annum thereafter for the remainder of his life.  His life expectancy was 39 years.  Therefore total compensation in that claim alone in fact totals over £6million.  Interestingly the settlement in this case was delayed by the NHSLA and its lawyers, because there was no-one available to give instructions at the pre-arranged settlement meeting in the case.  We informed the NHSLA that their actions had increased our costs in this particular case by £130,000 to the eventual date of settlement and invited them to confirm what had gone wrong in the case and how they would ensure this did not happen again – to date we have not received a response from them.”

Mr Rumley continued: “To further balance the argument, it’s worth noting that there are many occasions when the NHSLA has dragged its heels in admitting liability, causing costs to escalate unnecessarily. In one very recent case, the NHSLA settled two weeks before the case was due to go to court when it could have done so at a much earlier date, saving time, money and heartache. It would be interesting to know what proportion of the costs of these cases can be attributed to the NHSLA’s own inefficiencies.  I welcome a debate about the costs of medical negligence claims, but that has to include a thorough review of the actions of the NHSLA and their lawyers and how they contribute to an unnecessary increase in those costs. It is also worth remembering that if there was no negligence in the £100 billion+ per annum taxpayer-funded NHS, there would be no claims and so no legal costs. Patient safety therefore has a fundamental part to play in all of this.”

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