The head of the NHS has warned that hospitals should avoid collaborating with what he described as ‘ambulance-chasing lawyers’.
Simon Stevens noted that personal injury claims firms are costing the NHS nearly £450 million on an annual basis.
This fee would be enough to pay for 15,000 nurses within the healthcare system.
And there is increasing evidence of collusion between hospitals and the legal profession.
For example, Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge and Southampton General are even enabling legal firms to hire office space in public concourses.
And many other hospitals accept payment in exchange for enabling compensation firms to advertise on NHS-branded information leaflets in casualty units.
Stevens suggested that such commercial deals were both counter-productive for NHS patients and morally dubious.
“We need a sense that we practise what we preach, that we don’t have ambulance-chasing adverts in our A&E – those are things we still need to get right. Latest figures show that lawyers skimmed off for themselves nearly 30 pence out of every pound that the NHS spent on compensating patients who experienced genuine harm. The £440million a year that law firms are sucking out of NHS could otherwise have funded new patient treatments and 15,000 more nurses. Wherever possible let’s keep lawyers out of hospital and doctors out of court.”
Responding to the claims of Stevens, health minister Lord Prior acknowledged that the current situation is unacceptable.
“Litigation cases cost the NHS more than £1.5billion a year and guidance clearly states that organisations should not let these companies advertise in their buildings”.
Yet there are an increasing number of hospitals within the NHS system that have drawn up contracts to either advertise or host personal injury law firms, promising patients ‘no-win no-fee’ representation.
But such is the financial pressure on many NHS institutions that there will always be a temptation for such firms to accept payment from legal firms.
With the trust having the power to make authoritative decisions on a commercial arrangements, it is likely that guidance on this matter will continue to be ignored, unless NHS England acts more decisively.
Andrew Bridgen, Tory MP for North West Leicestershire, continues to campaign against such illegal advertising deals, and suggested that the current situation should be considered disgraceful.
“This is completely immoral. These hospitals are feeding the monster that is devouring it. They think they have safeguards in place – that the companies can’t sue the hospitals they are dealing with – but if they believe those claims are not being passed on to another party, they are living in dream land”.