NAO tells government to act as medical negligence costs surge

6 Sep 17

The government must rein in the spiralling costs of clinical negligence claims, which have quadrupled over the last decade, the National Audit Office has said.

Costs have surge from £400m in 2006-07 to £1.6bn in 2016-17, according to the NAO’s report released today.

In addition, the number of clinical negligence claims where damages were awarded has more than doubled from 2,800 to 7,300.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “The cost of clinical negligence in trusts is significant and rising fast, placing increasing financial pressure on an already stretched system.

“NHS Resolution [the NHS litigation authority] and the Department of Health are proposing measures to tackle this, but the expected savings are small compared with the predicted rise in overall costs.

He added: “At £60bn, up from £51bn last year, the provision for clinical negligence in trusts is one of the biggest liabilities in the government accounts, and one of the fastest growing.”

Morse said curbing these growing costs would require “significant” activity in policy and legislation.

The NAO warned that the cost of clinical negligence claims was rising at a faster rate year on year than NHS funding.

This was adding to the financial pressures already experienced by many trusts, which could affect patients' access to services and care quality. 

Not only were the number of claims rising but also they were each getting more expensive.

The jump in claims accounted for 45% of the overall increase in costs, while rising payments for damages and claimants’ legal costs accounted for 33% and 21% respectively.

Claimants’ legal costs have seen the fastest percentage rise, going from £77m to £486m over the past 10 years.

Payouts are expected to hit £3.2bn by 2020-21.

The NAO said proposed actions to contain the rising cost of clinical negligence claims were unlikely to stop this growth because, even if they were implemented, they were likely to save only £90m a year by 2020-21.

The report stated: “The government lacks a coherent cross-government strategy, underpinned by policy, to support measures to tackle the rising cost of clinical negligence.”

The watchdog stated that, despite identifying the key factors behind the rise in clinical negligence costs, the government was not adequately addressing these issues because it had not laid out a clear policy measures to tackle them.

Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said the Department of Health and the Ministry of Justice were too slow in responding to the “spiralling” costs of clinical negligence claims, which were taking scarce resources away from frontline services and patients.

She called the £90m projected savings in the government’s plans “a drop in ocean” compared with the forecast costs of £3.2bn by 2021.

“We need the government to take a good hard look at the financial and personal costs of clinical negligence,” she said.

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