Are medical negligence legal costs getting out of control?
Well, the government certainly thinks so. That’s why it’s looking to take action to cap what it sees as excessive charges by placing strict limits on what lawyers can claim in clinical negligence cases against the NHS in England.
Government officials want to place a defined limit on legal costs in cases where the claims are below £100,000. The reason for this is that it claims some lawyers are submitting legal bills that charge more than patients receive in compensation. However, solicitors are warning that such a move, like the one already happening in the criminal justice system, could deny patients access to justice.
So, how serious is the problem? Is the NHS being exploited by excessive legal bills?
Well, figures show the NHS was charged £259m in legal fees for claims in 2013-14. The NHS did manage to recoup £74m by challenging some claims made in 2013-14, but the Department of Health says taking these cases to court is costly and time-consuming and believes further savings could be made.
Officials say their proposals, which will be open to public consultation in the autumn, would ensure lawyer’s fees are more proportionate and reflect the amount of compensation patients receive. In one of the examples cited, one patient received £11,800 in damages but was charged legal fees totalling £175,000. The NHS was then left to pick up the bill for that.
Speaking about the proposal, Health Minister, Ben Gummer, said:
“Safe, compassionate care is my upmost priority and to achieve this, the NHS must make sure every penny counts.”
“Unscrupulously, some lawyers have used patient claims to load grossly excessive costs onto the NHS and charge far more than the patient receives in compensation.”
The proposals received backing from the Medical Defence Union, a body which offers doctors guidance on medico-legal issues, supported the move. Dr Matthew Lee, professional services director for the MDU, said:
“Patients often need to meet part or all of these costs themselves but the system must provide access to justice where patients have been negligently harmed. Legal fees must, therefore, be affordable and proportionate.”
“If it was decided to introduce a well-thought-out, fixed-cost structure for legal costs in clinical negligence claims that could only be a good thing and should result in legal fees becoming more affordable and proportionate to the compensation claimed by the patient.”
However, a leading clinical negligence solicitor, Terry Donovan from the law firm Kingsley Napley, told the BBC that the proposals could have serious consequences for patients and could severely limit their access to justice. He claimed that costs are often driven up by the NHS’ refusal to admit liability early in proceedings. He added:
“This sounds like another massive attack on access to justice for everybody. These so-called low value cases under £100,000 still involve cases where people have had serious injuries and lives have been destroyed.”
“Fees are already tightly controlled, with the courts managing costs carefully as a result of recent reforms. Costs are already capped and limited.”
“Costs can be very proportionate if the NHS will admit liability promptly when it’s appropriate. But defendants drive up costs if they don’t admit liability early on and the case ends up in court.”
If you’ve been injured as a direct result of medical negligence, you and your family will need all the help and support you can get.
Harold Stock & Co solicitors can provide that support and will deal with your case sensitively.
Our solicitors are here to help you make the decisions that are right for you, and we will vigorously contest the case in order to help you claim the maximum compensation you’re rightfully entitled to.
For further help and advice, or for a more informal discussion about clinical negligence claims, contact Harold Stock Solicitors on 01457 835597 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.