NHS litigation costs continue to rise

THE cost of medical negligence claims to the NHS in England continues to rise despite a record reduction in formal litigation as more claims are mediated.

NHS Resolution figures for the past year show that the NHS paid out more than £1.63 billion in damages to claimants in 2017/18, an increase from £1.08 billion in 2016/17. Over £400 million of the increase (33 per cent) was due to the change in the personal injury discount rate (PIDR) from 2.5 to minus 0.75 per cent.

Legal costs fell (by £31.8 million) for the first time in many years as NHS Resolution implemented the first year of its five year strategy.

Helen Vernon, NHS Resolution chief executive said: "The growing interest both from our NHS members and those who act for injured patients in working together to resolve claims for compensation without going to court has been very encouraging and we hope to build on this so that mediation is no longer seen as novel in healthcare.

"However, the cost of clinical negligence is at all-time high. The total provisions for all of our indemnity schemes continue to rise from £65 billion last year to £77 billion as of 31 March 2018 which brings a renewed urgency to efforts across government to tackle the drivers of that cost."

Among other headline figures, NHS resolution reports that the number of new clinical negligence claims in 2017/18 was 10,673 – a small reduction of 13 claims (0.12 per cent) from 2016/17. Total payments relating to clinical schemes increased by £520.4 million (30 per cent), from £1,707.2 billion to £2,227.5 billion (inclusive of the increase due to the change in the PIDR). Legislation to address the effect of the PIDR is currently progressing through parliament.

The greatest number of claims received across all the clinical negligence schemes relates to emergency medicine (13 per cent) and orthopaedic surgery (12 per cent). Obstetrics claims represented 1,067 (10 per cent) of clinical claims by number in 2017/18, but accounted for 48 per cent of the total value of new claims reported at £2,166.3 billion.

Claimant legal costs fell for the first time in recent years by £31.8 million (6.4 per cent) from £498.5 million to £466.6 million but defence costs increased by 2.5 per cent to £128 million from £125.7 million.

NHS Resolution also reports that the majority of claims received were resolved without formal court proceedings (69.6 per cent, up from 67.8 per cent the previous year) and just under a third of claims end up in litigation with less than 1 per cent going to a full trial (where most end in judgment in favour of the NHS).

Link: NHS Resolution Annual Report and Accounts 2017/18