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NHS Resolution Annual Report Shows Reduction in Legal Costs among Claimants

Consideration was given for the editing and publication of this post.

Over the last several years, a focus on reducing the number of legal claims has been in the NHS purview. The driving force behind some initiatives and campaigns taken on by the healthcare organisation has been cost reduction in the realm of litigation, but not all programmes have been successful. In the 2017/18 NHS Resolution Annual Report and Accounts, a new trend has emerged as a positive point of discussion across NHS leaders, patients, and the hospitals tasked with providing quality healthcare.

The results highlight the fact that legal claims against primary care practices and hospitals paid out more than £1.63 billion in damages, up from £1.08 billion the year prior. Although the total amount of legal claims increased year over year, the report also showed the first reduction in claimant legal costs across the board.

Throughout the 2017/18 report year, the NHS effectively mediated more cases than it had in its entire history. While some feel strongly that the cost of clinical negligence has hit record levels in the past year, the shift toward more mediation is promising on several levels. To help understand this trend, it is necessary to look at the whole of the numbers in the most recent NHS Resolution data, and examine the role of mediation in the legal claims process for patients, GPs, and the NHS as a whole.

By the Numbers

The NHS Resolution report offers several points of interest, not only for NHS leadership but for the patients who rely on its array of services for their health and well-being. A few telling data points in the report include the following:

  • New negligence claims against NHS practices and hospitals was lower than the previous year, by 0.12%

  • Payments relating to clinical schemes increased by £520.4 million, totaling £2,227.5 billion

  • Patient damages amounted to £1,632 billion, representing a 50% increase for the year

  • Under one-third of claims ended up in litigation, with less than 1% going to a full trial

  • The majority of claims received were resolved without formal court proceedings in the early stages, most without payment of damages

While some of these new statistics may be worrisome to those in want of reductions in legal claim costs, there are direct correlations to the increase in total medical negligence payouts to patients. Some cite the change in the discount rate as part of the reason the total amount increased for the year. Last year, this was cut from 2.5% to 0.75%, which ultimately leads to an increase in the cost of long-term compensation payouts. Although the rise is not insignificant, the overall sentiment of the numbers cited in the report is positive. A recognisable move toward mediation is bringing down the cost of medical negligence claims for patients; this also has a positive impact on the NHS as a whole.

The Role of Mediation

For many years, the NHS has placed blame on medical negligence lawyers for the rising cost of claimant payouts, compounded by an overly litigious society. However, the reality is the issue of medical negligence compensation is far more complex as it relates to cost. A medical negligence law firm explains that part of the reason behind the high cost of litigation in the NHS is more appropriately connected to the underlying issue of medical mistakes. Patients – and their legal team – are not necessarily pursuing legal claims for unnecessary compensation, but instead because they require assistance with ongoing care due to negligence. In some cases, bringing attention to the error that caused them to suffer harm is the intention, not the payout. The most impactful way for the NHS to reduce the cost of these mistakes is to not make them in the first place, but focus is more often put on litigation costs instead.

However, the recent NHS Resolution report points to a clear change that offers hope in the realm of medical negligence claims across NHS providers. The fact that more cases are being mediated is a positive shift, and ultimately, this brings down the cost of legal issues significantly. Not only does this assist patients in getting the compensation they need to move on after a medical mistake, quickly, but it also lends a hand in reaching the outcomes NHS wants as far as cost reduction. Avoiding expensive, drawn-out trials through mediation helps resolve disputes and settle claims in a way that has an exponential impact on NHS costs now and in the future.

Although the claims process is still in need of refining to ensure patients have their voices heard, and the NHS has an opportunity to address past mistakes, the move toward a mediation-focused claims system is beneficial. Individual patients, their loved ones, GPs, hospitals, and NHS practices all stand to benefit from the change in medical negligence litigation, even if the total amount of compensation to those harmed increases over time.