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NHS Clinical Negligence Claims Defended “Too Long”

The NHS Litigation Authority has been criticised for defending clinical negligence claims for too long and increasing the legal costs paid by taxpayers.

The criticism was directed at the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) by Stephen Webber – chair of the Society of Clinical Injury Lawyers – after a freedom of information request revealed that 43% of clinical negligence claims only settle once court proceedings have been issued.

According to data in the freedom of information request, 5,795 clinical negligence claims were settled by the NHSLA in 2015/16 – 3,281 before court proceedings were issued and 2,514 after. However, the 43% of clinical negligence claims that settled after court proceedings had been issued accounted for 76% of the NHSLA´s legal costs.

Mr Webber told the Law Society Gazette that the NHSLA´s failure to provide prompt disclosure or to make early admissions of liability was causing cases to be settled late in the litigation process. “The NHSLA is defending cases too long and increasing costs”, he said. “They are either being given bad advice or they are ignoring good advice.”

Mr Webber´s criticism of the length of time it takes to settle clinical negligence claims against the NHS comes a week after several national newspapers launched an attack on “grossly inflated and morally questionable” legal fees paid by the NHSLA. Several newspapers reported that the NHSLA´s legal fees are costing the taxpayer £1.5 billion per year (in 2015/16 they amounted to £418 million).

The NHSLA has also defended itself against the criticism levied by Mr Webber. A spokesperson told the Law Society Gazette that the figures quoted in the freedom of information data did not tell the full story. He said that court proceedings can be issued for clinical negligence claims to avoid a claim being time-barred by the Statute of Limitations or because a negotiated settlement requires court approval.

The debate over the alleged extended defence of clinical negligence claims is set to continue in the near future. Sources suggest that the government is close to publishing a long-awaited consultation on fixed recoverable costs for clinical negligence claims against the NHS.