Clinical Negligence: Human cost of avoidable NHS errors outweighs financial cost

By Potter Rees Dolan Solicitors

October 2019

This blog was first published on Potter Rees Dolan’s website and the original can be seen here.

For over 20 years Potter Rees Dolan has supported individuals with serious injuries and disabilities caused by Clinical Negligence, as well as their families and loved ones. Accordingly, we have thorough insight into the mechanics of compensation claims and how compensation can make a huge difference to our clients’ lives.

We are dedicated to helping our clients recover the quality of life they deserve. But we are also dedicated to raising awareness of how it feels to go through this traumatic experience – the demands on those involved, the challenges they face in every area of their personal lives and the reasons badly damaged individuals deserve every penny they are awarded.

Not a lottery win

Perhaps understandably, many people see only the multi million pound headline figures without realising what the money is to be used for or how hard everyone involved had to fight to get it. Some people have likened compensation to a ‘lottery win’. We know that this is not the case at all.

It is important for people to understand that such settlements are not a lottery win and, in the majority of cases involving serious injuries, the money awarded for care (usually the highest part of the claim) is paid out on an annual basis over the individual’s lifetime. Reference to a ‘£10 million settlement’ can seem very high, but if the person is expected to live a further 15 years or so then you can see that the money has to be stretched out over that period and budgeted so that the person is not left without essential care in the future.

It should also be remembered that all costs and damages in successful medical negligence cases are approved by either the NHS and its solicitors, or by the courts.

With this is mind, it is particularly frustrating to come across articles such as the one published by the Mail on Sunday over the weekend.

Titled, ‘Lawyers cashing in on NHS medical blunders were handed £13 every SECOND last year by the health service’, the article went on to suggest that “the £411 million [costs] bill – an average of £1.1 million a day – would pay for 17,000 new nurses or 24,000 kidney transplants. And figures reveal that legal fees sometimes outstrip the damages paid to patients.”

The article also quoted Dr Matthew Lee of the Medical Defence Union, which offers indemnity to doctors facing negligence claims, as saying: “The money spent on legal costs for clinical negligence cases is concerning because this is money which is desperately needed by the NHS to fund patient care.”

Surely what is more concerning, is the frequency and the severity of the medical mistakes that are repeatedly made within the NHS. Mistakes which often would have been preventable if hospitals were to learn from previous mistakes or with increased/improved staff training. This is evidenced in various reports such as mother and baby charity Baby Lifeline’s most recent ‘Mind the Gap’ 2018 report, which has identified gaps in the training of midwives and front-line hospital staff.

Same goal

Ultimately, everyone should be working towards the same goal – to reduce unnecessary injuries, but very often the argument is tied up with implicit criticism of claimants and lawyers who bring clinical negligence claims. Without such claims, poor care would go unchecked, there would be little to no accountability, and there would be little hope of improving standards.

It is also worth reminding ourselves that if local authority services were better funded, less money would be required through claims to fund the support that victims of clinical negligence need.

Action Against Medical Accidents (AvMA) – the UK charity for patient safety & justice and an organisation we work closely with – support people affected by avoidable harm in healthcare; to help them achieve justice; and to promote better patient safety for all. Peter Walsh, Chief Executive at AvMA, says:

“The financial cost of clinical negligence is far outweighed by the human cost of these avoidable errors. The financial cost is also added to by failures to recognise the errors and settle claims promptly. Instead of dreaming up ways to make it even harder for harmed patients and their families to get access to justice, the Government should improve patient safety and consider bringing back legal aid as a more economic way of financing the legal costs of claims.”