The Medical Protection Society suggest that the existing cost of settling clinical negligence claims is equivalent to training 6,500 doctors annually.
Yet the authoritative organisation suggests that this figure will double by 2023.
Already the bill for medical negligence is equal to £1.5 billion, and this will render such payments unsustainable and divert significant amounts of funding away from frontline patient care, a report from the medical protection society asserts.
Its study – The Rising Costs of Clinical Negligence: Who Pays the Price? – argues that urgent reform is needed, and that if this is not delivered that there will be serious ramifications for the healthcare system.
The report concludes that there should be reasonable compensation for those harmed because of medical error, but that compensation had to be balanced against society’s ability to afford it.
With this increasing at nearly 12% annually, the study argues that the situation is becoming out of control, and some alterations must be made in order to deliver a more reasonable balance between affordability and responsibility.
The MPS proposes introducing nine legal reforms that it believes could reduce spiralling bills.
• Limit care costs based on a tariff agreed by experts.
• Use national average weekly earnings rather than individual patient earnings to calculate damages.
• Introduce a 10-year limit on claims.
• Put a cap on the number of experts in each case.
• Impose a fixed recoverable costs scheme for claims up to £250,000 to “stop lawyers charging disproportionate legal fees”.
Emma Hallinan, director of claims at the society, suggested that this is an extremely important issue that must be resolved as soon as possible.
“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.”
Hallinan conceded that this is a contentious issue, but suggested that the economic position of the NHS makes ignoring this issue unacceptable.
“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.”
There is an increasing public understanding of the need for reform, with a recent survey finding 73% of respondents supporting changes to the legal system that could reduce the cost of clinical negligence to the NHS.
“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,” Halligan added.