January 12, 2012

Government accused of using NHSLA bailout to skew clinical negligence reforms debate

Paul Rumley, Clinical Negligence partner at Withy King, has condemned today’s news that the Government has agreed to bail out the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) to the tune of £185m.

Paul, who is staunchly opposed to the proposed withdrawal of Legal Aid from all clinical negligence cases, has questioned the timing of the announcement just days before the House of Lords is due to sit on Monday, 16 January, to discuss amendments to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishing of Offenders Bill.

The NHSLA, which funds compensation claims and legal fees, claimed it was about to run out of money, blaming the significant rise in the number of clinical negligence cases.

Paul, who won the Bristol Law Society’s annual Outstanding Achievement Award last year for his lobbying on what he sees as the injustices of the proposed Legal Aid reforms as they affect victims of clinical negligence, said:

“Clinical negligence claims are often extremely complex and take years to complete so it is inconceivable that the NHSLA has suddenly and unexpectedly run out of money. I think it is more likely to be a cynical attempt by the Government to garner support ahead of the House of Lords sitting on Monday.

“Reports of the NHS having to pay out £16.85 billion if all cases brought against it are lost, are completely misleading and include a large number of potential claims which in reality, will never result in compensation or cost payments. Since 2001, there has been significant investment in the NHS and more people have been treated – and faster - so it is hardly surprising that more people have suffered negligence and brought claims. What is astonishing is the lack of public debate or plan to drive clinical negligence out of the system – or at least take meaningful steps to reduce it."

“The courts ruled five years ago that more money should be awarded by way of compensation to support disabled children injured through no fault of their own through the NHS. It is a mystery as to why these increased costs have come as an apparent surprise to the Government and the NHSLA. Why now? It either indicates very poor planning of resources or an alternative political agenda."

“I believe the Government has deliberately starved the NHSLA of funds to make clinical negligence claims appear to be spiralling out of control. This is all part of the Government’s attempt to cut Legal Aid and make it even more difficult for people to bring claims against the NHS. This represents a clear conflict of interest and an abuse of power.”

Paul believes the real questions which should be addressed are as follows:

  • What is being done to address the increase in medical negligence in the NHS and what steps are being taken to minimise the risks and ensure patient safety?
  • What is being done to ensure the NHSLA handles litigation appropriately, settles claims quickly, makes payments when they are due and is generally fit for purpose?
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