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Every year medical compensation levels are rising.
Medical claims inflation is running at 10% a year, meaning the size of claims is doubling every seven years.
This is not a reflection of clinical care standards. It is the result mainly of economic pressure and an outdated legal system meaning compensation must be calculated on the basis of private rather than NHS care.
This toxic climate is causing worry about indemnity becoming unaffordable. Some doctors could be deterred from certain types of work, or worse, from practice.
This is why the Medical Defence Union, the UK's leading medical defence organisation is campaigning for legal reforms.
In the last three years, the MDU has paid out over £100 million for high value claims - those over £1 million.
Patients must be compensated but in a fairer more affordable way.
Join our campaign for fairer compensation.
Better for you. Better for patients.
When the MDU paid the first million pound compensation award in 1988, it caused a sharp intake of breath among doctors. Today, multi-million pound damages payments for clinical negligence claims are common.
We should not stand by and watch compensation awards running unchecked to many millions of pounds. Reform of personal injury law needs to happen.
The MDU's highest compensation payment to date is £9.2m to compensate a patient rendered tetraplegic following spinal surgery. Another example is £6.2m in damages, with £3m in legal costs, to a patient for facial nerve damage after plastic surgery.
In the first claim the damages were so high because they had to fund future care and accommodation for a young person with a long life expectancy. In the second, compensation for loss of earnings made up most of the award.
No-one would deny that patients harmed as a result of medical negligence should be properly and fairly compensated. But this needs to be balanced against society's ability to pay. Large damages payments are no longer unusual and claims inflation is rising at an alarming rate - 10% for the past few years, far higher than wage, house or retail price inflation.
The MDU sees damages doubling every seven years. A claim that costs £9 million to settle today could cost over £18 million by 2021. The dramatic rise in clinical negligence awards affects all taxpayers.
The MDU advocates a package of legal reforms to provide a fairer and more sustainable system for all:
It is very clear that the current compensation system cannot continue because society cannot afford to foot the bill for liabilities that are increasing in an uncontrolled way. There must be change.
In the UK, damages are not intended to be punitive but compensatory and should cover what is necessary to put the claimant (patient) in the position he/she would have been in had the negligence not occurred.
There are two major elements to damages awards.
In cases where a patient has suffered a serious injury as a result of negligence, such as a child with brain damage, most of the award is intended to provide funds for care for the patient's projected life span. In such cases the annual cost of care often exceeds £100,000 in circumstances where the patient is expected to live for 50 years or more. This can result in substantial seven figure awards.
In addition, the defendant has to pay the costs of litigation, including costs of legal advisers and medical experts' fees for both sides.
Society cannot continue to fund spiralling compensation awards. The legal reforms the MDU suggests would address the problem. They could also provide an additional income stream of billions of pounds for NHS and local authority care at a time when both are under severe funding constraints.