February 7, 2012

Clinical negligence figures skew legal aid reforms debate

Paul Rumley, a clinical negligence partner at Withy King, has highlighted concerns over the Public Accounts Committee’s approach to reporting on figures showing the potential compensation bill for the Government in clinical negligence claims (£15.7 billion), and the affect that could have upon the ongoing debate in the House of Lords about the Government’s plans to cut legal aid funding for such cases.

Paul, who is staunchly opposed to the proposed withdrawal of Legal Aid from all clinical negligence cases, has questioned the reported understanding of the figures.

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:

“I am concerned about the misleading effect of the reported understanding of these compensation figures at a time when the House of Lords are engaged in a crucial debate about the Government’s plans to withdraw legal aid funding from some of the most vulnerable people in our society, namely children born severely disabled as a result of negligence at the time of their births. By all means we should have a debate about those costs, but we need to do so from a basis of an understanding of what some of these very large sums include and the reality of the sums being quoted.

“Reports of the NHS having to pay out £15.7 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 taxpayer-funded health system – or at least take meaningful steps to reduce it.”

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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