With reference to the article in the Daily Telegraph “Ambulance chasers push NHS cost bills to £200,000,000”.
I used to take the angry ambulance chaser jokes in good humour but no longer, I’ve spent too much time with the families and victims of clinical negligence, some of them with lasting disabilities that words like ‘devastating’ just cannot convey.
Fact – adverse incidents have risen year on year in the NHS. Fact – if there was no/less negligence there would be no/less successful claims.
The claim from Catherine Dixon that ”clinical negligence lawyers are front loading costs by hiring expert witnesses and conducting extensive investigations for what she believes are relatively low value claims” is, in my opinion, preposterous. It is essential when taking on a potential claim for a client who believes they have been failed by the NHS to establish exactly what happened, which means requesting that person’s medical records at the very least. It is frequently then necessary to instruct an expert in the appropriate field of medicine – often a doctor who practices within the NHS themselves – to consider the evidence and advise us as lawyers whether in fact the care afforded to the client was below par or not. Only then can we make a decision as to whether or not the client has grounds for compensation. The NHS Litigation Authority, or their agents (as they use lawyers too) put us to proof in the vast majority of cases, even those which are seemingly clear cut; if more admissions were forthcoming in the early days of a claim, or if Trusts or individual doctors admitted fault to patients and families when something went wrong in accordance with the ‘duty of candour’ which the British Medical Association supports and which the Francis Inquiry Report suggested should form part of the Statute books, the need for the ‘extensive investigations’ alluded to in this report would be much reduced, with the consequential reduction in costs.
The NHS Litigation Authority is worse than most insurance companies at replying to requests for information for even the simplest of disclosure. It is often the case that requests have to be chased up numerous times. Replies to correspondence can take months. Telephone calls frequently go unreturned. All of these delays impact upon the progress of the case, and can lead to further costs being incurred if it becomes necessary to issue proceedings, for example. Applications via the Court for disclosure are not infrequent; sometimes, a Court Order is the only way to get a Trust (or their agents) to provide documentation or information which the client is entitled to and which under the rules governing data protection and civil litigation should be disclosed promptly. Arguments on costs always follow but if the NHS simply complied with the rules costs would be considerably lower and cases would reach conclusion more swiftly.
Express Solicitors is stated to have claimed £1.4 million in costs for 30 cases, giving an average of £46,000 per case. The article claims that the costs were reduced after negotiations to £779,063, giving an average of just under £26,000 in costs. What is not evident is what proportion of those costs could have been avoided if the NHSLA, or their agents, had dealt with the cases in a more efficient manner. Express Solicitors has been dealing with clinical negligence issues for over eight years. I would welcome an open dialogue with Catherine Dixon re steps the NHSLA could take to seriously reduce its expenditure.