Feature Compensation

Suing the NHS: can the £1bn annual compensation bill continue?

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f978 (Published 19 February 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f978
  1. Clare Dyer, legal correspondent, BMJ
  1. claredyer4{at}gmail.com

In the first of a series of Features about compensation for clinical errors, Clare Dyer looks at how cost saving changes in the law might affect patients and the NHS

Eleven-year-old Joseph O’Reggio won £6m (€7m, $9m) compensation last October for errors at his birth that starved his brain of oxygen and left him needing care for the rest of his life. Staff at Wolverhampton’s New Cross Hospital failed to act quickly enough when his heart rate dropped.

What happened to Joe is a tragedy for him and his family, who battled for a decade to win the payout to secure his future. But the story is a depressingly familiar one: there are thousands of Joe O’Reggios. The same month as his case was settled, a report from the National Health Service Litigation Authority (NHSLA), which handles clinical negligence claims on behalf of NHS hospital trusts in England, found that birth errors landed the NHS with a £3.1bn legal bill between 2000 and 2010, and it warned that the same mistakes were still being repeated. 1

Fig 1 Number (top) and value (bottom) of reported Clinical Negligence Scheme for Trusts claims for selected specialties, 1 April 1995 to 31 March 20111 (excludes below excess claims handled by trusts before 1 April 2002)

Fig 2 Total number and value of reported Clinical Negligence Scheme for Trusts claims, showing birth errors as proportion of total, 1 April 1995 to 31 March 20111 (excludes below excess claims handled by trusts before 1 April 2002)

The annual NHS bill for damages and legal costs in clinical negligence claims in England breached £1bn for the first time in 2011-12. The surge to £1.28bn, a rise of more than 45% on the previous year’s total of £863m, forced the government to approve an unprecedented …

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