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NHS lawyers are to blame for high legal costs

Peter Stefanovic, Simpson Millar LLP

NHS wasted a staggering £250M in litigation costs last year fighting victims of medical blunders

- NHS is paying twice as much to its own lawyers as victims’ advisors
- Up to 66% of fees for medical negligence cases go to NHSLA’s defendant law firms
- Government plans to cap claimant fees fail to address poor NHSLA procurement practice

A leading medical negligence lawyer has pointed the finger of blame at the NHS and its legal teams, for routinely fighting meritorious claims and inflating costs for everyone.

This Friday, the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) will publish its latest accounts, which are expected to show that for medical negligence claims received up to £10,000 in compensation, the lawyers were paid almost three times as much in costs.

But Peter Stefanovic, Partner at Simpson Millar, says these costs are amplified when NHS’ lawyers fight cases they are certain to lose.

“Since a victim of a medical blunder will only recover costs if they win their case then by calling for a curb on our charges, the NHSLA is covering up its own failures and restricting access to justice for victims at one fell swoop. They themselves are the reason costs are so high.

“The recent Sunday Telegraph investigation clearly shows, that of the top 10 law firms who make money from the process of medical negligence claims, seven of them act for the NHS, charging 66% of the total fees. ”

Peter explains this is because the NHS and its lawyers have been fighting meritorious claims made by victims and their families, often over a number years, which should have been settled.

“We only have to look at the fact that it recently emerged the NHS wasted a staggering £250M in litigation costs last year fighting victims of medical blunders.

“Those victims will only have been paid these costs on winning their claim.”

“The Government’s spotlight should be falling on the NHS and its lawyers who fought these cases, often up to a fully contested court trial, and then been ordered by the court to pay the victim damages and costs.”

“If the NHS and its lawyers had adopted a more reasonable approach to meritorious claims brought by victims of medical blunders instead of fighting cases which should have been settled, the taxpayer will have been saved millions of pounds. The Government’s latest proposals, if implemented, will quite simply put access to justice beyond reach for thousands of victims of medical blunders in the UK.”

A Timely Reminder

Peter explains that he recently settled a case which like so many other cases before graphically illustrates why mounting litigation costs are a consequence of unreasonable Hospital Trusts fighting claims which should have been settled at the outset.

“My client came to me regarding treatment she had received at Stoke Mandeville Hospital where she had given birth to her child in January 2013. It was found that my client's consultant failed to make sure that the suturing (stitching) of the C-section was performed by, or assisted by a qualified practitioner.

“This meant that the suturing was not done properly, leaving our client to suffer from immediate pain which was becoming progressively worse. Eventually, the C-section wound broke down completely and our client's small bowel could be seen coming out through the wound. This was a direct result of the faulty technique used to suture the wound.

“An operation took place to try to correct this, which meant our client experienced further severe pain, she was on morphine and needed a catheter as she wasn't able to walk.”

Physical and Mental Damage

“As you can imagine, my client is now left incredibly distressed following this ordeal. Sadly, she still experiences nightmares, flashbacks and significant psychological symptoms with elements of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) caused by witnessing her wound break down and bowel protrude. My client also suffered adjustment disorder, fear of becoming pregnant again – and indeed, a fear of hospitals altogether.”

After a lengthy battle with the NHS Trust, Peter was able to secure his client £12,000 in compensation for the trauma she endured and still continues to live with.

“The legal costs in this case came to around £100,000; an extortionate figure accrued purely because the NHS failed to accept liability for its own actions, and failed to settle the case at an early stage, forcing my client into litigation with resultant costs.

“How it would be fair to deny people justice in this situation purely because of the NHS's failure to admit responsibility is beyond me.”

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