Action needed to limit spending on medical negligence claims, report says

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The amount a person can claim for lost future earnings due to medical negligence should be capped to limit the NHS's spiralling legal costs, a new report suggests.

The Medical Protection Society (MPS) has called for a host of reforms to cut the amount spent on clinical negligence claims.

The organisation, which provides professional protection to more than 300,000 medics around the world, said the health service will be spending £2.6 billion a year on clinical negligence claims by 2022 if current trends continue.

Its latest report claims there should be reasonable compensation for those harmed due to clinical negligence but this must be balanced against society's ability to pay.

In the five years to 2015/16, spending on clinical negligence claims rose by 72%, the MPS said.

If the trend in England continues then the balance will tip too far, the authors of the report said.

The NHS spent £1.5 billion on such claims last year, they added.

They made a series of recommendations to cut costs including suggesting the use of national average weekly earnings to calculate damages awarded, instead of a patient's weekly earnings. 

This means higher earners would not receive more from the NHS in compensation than lower earners for a similar claim.

Meanwhile there should be a limit placed on future care costs, the introduction of an 10-year limit between the date of an adverse incident and when a claim can be made and a minimum threshold for cash compensation relating to claims for minor injuries to reduce the cumulative cost of damage payouts where only very minor injuries are sustained.

They also call for fixed recoverable costs for claims up to £250,000 to stop lawyers charging "disproportionate" legal fees.

Emma Hallinan, director of claims at the MPS, said: "It is important that there is reasonable compensation for patients harmed following clinical negligence, but a balance must be struck against society's ability to pay. If the current trend continues the balance will tip too far and the cost risks becoming unsustainable for the NHS and ultimately for society.

"This is without doubt a difficult debate to have, but difficult decisions are made about spending in healthcare every day and we have reached a point where the amount society pays for clinical negligence must be one of them.

"We believe whole system legal reform is needed and this sits at the heart of our Striking a Balance campaign - we need a regime which achieves a balance between compensation that is reasonable, but also affordable. There is growing recognition from Government on the need for a more sustainable long-term solution. 

"When considering the financial challenges facing the NHS and the change to the personal injury discount rate - which has increased the cost of compensation for clinical negligence, exacerbating an already challenging situation - there has never been a more pertinent time to tackle the root of the problem."