Medical negligence is a difficult subject to broach in the UK. The NHS is an essential service, a modern marvel and the largest healthcare provider in the country. But despite its good graces as a provider of free care to more than 70 million citizens, it is a flawed service. Many find it difficult to recognise the sheer necessity of the service and its issues with negligence, but with increased coverage of negligence cases in national media, the conversation is difficult to avoid.
Increase in Negligence Coverage
News stories regarding individual medical negligence claims against doctors and practices have been released with increased frequency in recent years, as high-profile cases from manslaughter charges to life-altering surgical errors dominate regional and national headlines alike.
Whether you use private healthcare or the NHS, medical negligence is always a possibility. Doctors or professionals can fail to provide duty of care in a wide variety of ways, from missed diagnoses to mis-prescription and even errors in surgery. But is negligence really on the rise?
Negligence Claim Rates
Despite an increased awareness of medical negligence in both NHS and private hospitals, owing largely to media reports on individual high-profile cases, the number of claims remained steady in the years leading up to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. However, NHS Resolution – the organisation responsible for handling and administrating negligence cases against the NHS – reported that claims had increased by 9.35% in the year 2019-20. But the organisation explained further that the rise in claims could be attributed to increased NHS activity and specific procedure-related claims such as the transvaginal mesh controversy.
The Value of Claims
Though the number of claims rose, the annual cost of harm from clinical activity fell by £500 million between 2018-19 and 2019-20 – though the overall provision for liability increased by £700 million. Here, provision means the budget set aside for handling claims, a budget inflated to cover the potential costs of every claim levied against the NHS. A majority of claims are rejected or settled well under their projected value, resulting in a far lower spend on settling claims or on legal fees.
Nonetheless, the provision set aside for claims is a significant figure, representing a large value of money that could otherwise be spent improving care – indicating systemic and structural issues with the NHS to require such a large provision. The vast majority of that provision is allocated to maternity claims, which constitute 70% of the cost of harm illustrated in the 2019-20 report.