Litigation culture draining billions from NHS hospitals

The growth of the “litigation culture” is draining NHS hospitals of money, a report warns.Litigation culture draining billions from NHS hospitalsPayouts made by the NHS have trebled over the past decade to more than £1.3 billion a year, of which more than £200 million goes in fees to lawyers.

At the same time, fear of being sued has fuelled the growth of “tick box bureaucracy” and has eroded trust between professionals and the public, according to the report published by the Centre for Policy Studies.

The authors say that the rise in legal claims is “bleeding public services dry” and has created the fantasy that there is “no such thing as an accident”.

The readiness of patients to bring claims has been portrayed by some as a means of holding public services to account.

However, the consequence has been that doctors increasingly follow procedures designed to “cover their backs” rather than to do the best for patients, says the report.

As a result, it says, nurses fill in paperwork rather than tend to the sick, doctors over-order precautionary scans, and surgeons avoiding using new techniques which might be in their patients’ best interests.

As of March, the NHS Litigation Authority estimated its potential liabilities for outstanding clinical negligence claims at £18.6 billion. The amount is the equivalent to one-sixth of the annual health service budget.

NHS authorities choose to settle most claims out of court, in an attempt to limit the amount they have to pay.

Only in around one in 30 cases are damages set by court. The £1.33 billion bill faced by the NHS in 2011/12 included £230 million in legal costs.

The report accuses trade unions of facing both ways on the issue of litigation.

Frank Furedi, Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent and joint author of the report, said that the litigation culture was “bleeding public services dry”.  Every time we bring a claim against our health or education services, we are in effect suing ourselves,” he said.

“And every time we are encouraged to ‘name, blame and claim’ as an act of responsible citizenship, to stop other people sharing our bad experiences, we end up contributing to the worsening of these very services.”

The academic said that in recent years there had been official recognition of the “villains” of the piece; the lawyers who earn fees from representing accident victims and the claim management companies that encourage individuals to lodge claims.

However, to stem the tide, a cultural shift was necessary, he said.

“If we want to put a brake on the culture of litigation and litigation avoidance in Britain, we need to look beyond ambulance-chasers and greedy lawyers to the cultural conditions that have allowed litigious sentiments to flourish as common sense,” said Professor Furedi.

“In particular we need to challenge the expectation that professional ‘best practice’ in the public sector should be measured by the absence of complaints or litigation.”


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