15bn lawyers' bill for NHS blunders: Avalanche of no-win, no-fee claims push costs up 13%Health Service sets aside 15.7bn to deal with 'no-win, no-fee' claimsCompensation claims cost NHS more as one third of money paid out goes straight to lawyers

An avalanche of claims against doctors has left the Health Service with a 15.7billion bill.

The sum – one seventh of the annual NHS budget – has had to be set aside to pay compensation over future years to tens of thousands of victims of clinical negligence.

A report by MPs reveals that much of the bill is the result of blunders that have left babies brain-damaged.

The rise on the Health Service bill is being partly blamed on 'no win no fee' lawyers who encourage people to make claims as they don't pay costs if they lose

The rise on the Health Service bill is being partly blamed on 'no win no fee' lawyers who encourage people to make claims as they don't pay costs if they lose

Advances in medical science mean that these children live much longer, increasing their lifelong care bill.

But a substantial part of the rise is also being blamed on ‘no-win no-fee’ lawyers, who encourage patients to make negligence claims because they will not have to pay costs if they lose.

If the patients win, the NHS has to pay even more than normal because no-win no-fee lawyers charge more to defendants to cover their own bills in lost cases.

Around a third of all the money paid out by the NHS in compensation goes straight into the pockets of lawyers.

The 15.7billion figure, which dates from 2009/10, is 13 per cent up on the liability bill from the previous year.

Officials admit it could be an underestimate because, if more court cases than expected go against the NHS, the full cost could exceed 23billion.

The figure is contained in a report on the ‘Whole of Government Accounts’ by the public accounts committee. It also revealed the full cost of Labour’s PFI deals.

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It shows that in 2009/10 – Labour’s last year in power – the NHS believed that clinical negligence claims would cost it 15.7billion over future years.

This is an actuarial calculation, based on the number of claims the NHS believes there is a very good chance of it not being able to defend, the severity of the claimed errors and how much a victim would be paid out for these mistakes.

The figure includes an estimate of the cost of mistakes that have not yet been claimed for.

Last year, more than 8,500 clinical negligence claims were received by the NHS – 30 per cent up on 2009/10. Around 1billion is actually paid each year to victims of blunders. In the report, the Public Accounts Committee warns: ‘Claims for clinical negligence outstanding at 31 March 2010 could cost 15.7billion, or 15 per cent of the government’s total provision for future expenses arising from events that have happened in the past.

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‘The Treasury … did not know that clinical claims recorded by the NHS Litigation Authority had increased by some 31 per cent in 2010/11 or what plans were in place to reduce liabilities for clinical negligence.’

Peter Walsh of Action Against Medical Accidents said: ‘One of the most unhelpful things that has happened in recent years is the increase in the more disreputable lawyers who get involved in no-win no-fee deals. This makes it all the more baffling that the Government wants to scrap legal aid for clinical negligence cases. This will encourage claims farmers and no-win no-fee, leaving the NHS to pick up the tabs. This bill will increase.’

Emma Boon of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: ‘It is extremely worrying that clinical negligence is costing taxpayers billions – especially as no-win no-fee solicitors and a growing compensation culture are partly responsible.’

She added: ‘Health chiefs need to learn lessons from negligence cases and urgently address this issue. The cost to taxpayers is shockingly high.’ A source at the Ministry of Justice said there were concerns that lawyers may be artificially inflating the cost of claims.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: ‘The vast majority of the millions of people treated by the NHS every year experience good quality, safe and effective care.

‘However, if patients do not receive the treatment they should, and mistakes are made, it is right that they are entitled to compensation and the NHS Litigation Authority plays a vital role in ensuring claims are settled as swiftly as possible.

‘The Government’s ambitious proposals for reforming the civil litigation system will support the NHS in dealing with costly litigation cases.

‘We want to strike the right balance between access to compensation claims and ensuring costs are proportionate, sustainable and affordable.’