NHS settles claim of patients treated with LSD

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 02 March 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:501
  1. Clare Dyer, legal correspondent
  1. BMJ

    The NHS has agreed to pay a total of £195000 ($279 000; €319000) in an out of court settlement to 43 former psychiatric patients who were treated with the hallucinogenic drug lysergide (LSD) between 1950 and 1970.

    The patients were treated for illnesses including severe depression, schizophrenia, and postnatal depression at a few hospitals where the drug was thought at the time to be of therapeutic value. The main centre at which this treatment took place was Powick Hospital in Worcester.

    The claims, which were funded by legal aid, have been settled for a fraction of the value put on them by the claimants' lawyers. David Harris of the personal injury law firm Alexander Harris, who acted for more than 90% of the claimants, said that the two main hurdles for claimants were the legal requirements to sue within certain time limits and the fact that the standard of care expected of doctors was lower 40 or 50 years ago than it is now.

    The NHS Litigation Authority has also agreed to pay £400000 towards the claimants' legal costs. Mr Harris said that the full costs were about £750000 but that the firm would absorb the loss and none of his clients would have any costs subtracted from their damages to make up the shortfall.

    “I know that some of the clients were very disappointed with what they got, but some have been delighted,” he said. “We will take the hit ourselves, and every client who was in the settlement will receive all the damages they have been awarded.”

    A spokesman for the authority said: “The legal costs of proceeding to trial in these 43 cases alone could have exceeded £3m, with a trial continuing for around six months. No admissions of liability have been made, and the settlement was motivated by a desire on behalf of this authority to limit the continuing accrual of legal costs on both sides, which have become disproportionate to the damages involved.”