MDU says COVID pandemic highlights urgent need for legal reform

The MDU has urged the government to commit to action on clinical negligence claims reform.

The Medical Defence Union (MDU), the UK’s leading medical defence organisation, said a new report from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC), provides a further stark warning on the unsustainable cost of clinical negligence.

The publication of the Whole of Government Accounts highlights some of the challenges public finances are set to face in the future. Principal amongst them, is the provision of tax payer money for the £85 billion liabilities associated with clinical negligence. The report says that due to its size and nature, it is one of the government liabilities that "represents significant risks to the UK finances." The report goes on to say that "the government will be further exposed to liabilities arising from its response to COVID-19 that will require strategic management."

Dr Christine Tomkins, MDU chief executive, said:

"As COVID-19 continues to wreak its effects on public health and the economy, taxpayers' funds are under immense strain. It has never been more important to ensure that every penny possible of NHS funds goes towards the care and treatment of patients.

"The report by the Public Accounts Committee reaffirms the scale of the burden that the cost of clinical negligence has on the public purse. A Treasury report also shows, the provision for clinical negligence claims is now worth £3,600 for every household in England, compared to £700 per household 10 years ago.

"The system driving this cannot remain unreformed any longer. The MDU has campaigned for many years for legal reform to address the rising cost of clinical negligence. The government must act now and bring forward proposals. The scale of the increase in the cost of clinical negligence over the past decade does not reflect any deterioration in clinical standards. The issue is that we have a medical negligence system that is unfair and unsustainable and results in millions of pounds leaving the NHS – money that could otherwise be spent on more and better services for patients.

"Sadly COVID-19 will only serve to increase the scale of clinical negligence liabilities. We are fearful that NHS finances, already heavily affected by the pandemic, could be overwhelmed in just a few years by the cost of negligence claims that are likely to follow without government intervention. The government needs to take action now. It cannot wait until claims begin to arrive in a few years’ time, when it will be too late. The MDU is calling on the government to introduce a specific exemption for the NHS from COVID-19 clinical negligence claims, alongside a complete overhaul of the whole clinical negligence system."

This page was correct at publication on 25/01/2021. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.