Urgent need for legal reform as costs of NHS claims rise again, MDU says

Both the number and costs of NHS claims in England rose in 2022/23

Figures just released by the body handling clinical negligence claims against GPs and hospitals in England have revealed that both the number and costs of claims rose in 2022/23, with almost £2.7 billion paid out to settle claims. This is an increase of 9.5% on the 2021/22 figure, when nearly £2.5 billion was paid to compensate patients and pay legal costs.

The Medical Defence Union (MDU) has called for the figures to spur the government into action to reform the system under which unsustainable amounts are paid out in compensation.

Dr Michael Devlin, MDU head of professional standards and liaison, said:

"The amounts being paid out in clinical negligence claims should concern us all as doctors and patients. The increase in damages being paid to patients each year, which rose by 12%, is due to a system for compensating patients that is no longer fit for purpose."

According to NHS Resolution's (NHSR) Annual report for 2022/23, overall new claims being reported against hospital trusts (CNST) and GP practices (CNSGP) rose by 8.6% compared to 2021/22.

The report also revealed a 45% increase in claims coming from primary care and 3% from NHS hospitals. NHSR explained that the increase in cases from primary care was expected and "primarily due to the time-lag between incidents occurring and claims being received". Although numbers have risen this year, claims remain 1.7% lower than the average of the five years to 2019/20 preceding the pandemic.

More welcome was the news that NHSR reported a significant reduction in the provision for total liabilities from £128.6 billion to £69.6 billion. The report explains this is mainly due to a significant increase in the Treasury discount rates, meaning a lower value for the future costs of settling actual and potential claims.

Dr Devlin continued: "The government has committed £2.4 billion to fund more training places for healthcare professionals and promised to retain more staff. This is much needed but is eclipsed by the billions spent in clinical negligence settlements annually - money that might otherwise be available to spend on NHS services.

"The government has long promised to address unsustainable clinical negligence costs. Plans to fix legal costs in claims valued up to £25,000 have yet to surface and a law from 1948 still means compensation awards must disregard NHS care availability in determining damages. The cost of private treatment is applied instead.

"It's now time for concrete proposals to see the light of day, many of which have already been proposed in last year's Health and Social Care Select Committee's inquiry report into litigation reform."

This page was correct at publication on 19/07/2023. 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.