Government must end complacency over cost of clinical negligence

01 December 2017

The Public Accounts Committee report says bold action required to address impact of claims on resources available for frontline care and patients.

Cost of clinical negligence grew to £1.6 billion in 2016–17

The annual cost of the clinical negligence for trusts has quadrupled over the last decade—£0.4 billion in 2006–07 to £1.6 billion in 2016–17—taking already scarce resources away from frontline services and patients.

Despite long-standing concerns about these predictable rising costs, the government has been disappointingly slow and complacent in its response.

There seems to be a prevailing attitude of defensiveness in the NHS when things go wrong, and a reluctance to admit mistakes, which is likely to be leading to more clinical negligence claims.

Lack of consistent data across NHS

The lack of consistent data across the system means that the NHS still does not fully understand why some people suffering harm choose to make claims or the root causes of negligence, so it is not well placed to learn from its mistakes.

It is important that patients suffering as a result of clinical negligence are compensated and that lessons are learned but the mix of stretching efficiency targets, increasing financial pressures and patients waiting longer for treatment carries the risk of clinical negligence claims spiralling out of control without effective action.

The government needs to take bolder and more coordinated action to prevent this from happening.

Chair's comment

Comment from Committee Chair Meg Hillier MP

"I am concerned that funding available for NHS services and the costs of clinical negligence are locked in a vicious spiral—one that without urgent action will spin out of control.

In just a decade we have seen a four-fold increase in the annual cost to trusts of such negligence, depriving frontline care of badly needed funds and therefore heightening the risk of further increases in negligence claims.

Of course it is important that patients who suffer because of clinical negligence are compensated. But Government has been far too slow to understand and get a grip on the increase in negligence costs.

The NHS must move more quickly to share best practice in the handling of harmful incidents and complaints. This should be a fundamental part of what remains a disappointingly slow-moving shift towards openness and transparency.

Whistleblowers in the NHS are too often seen as a problem—what’s needed is a more open culture so that mistakes are acknowledged and learnt from.
But there is also a clear need for Government departments to work together to identify and act on the impact of changes elsewhere in government which could and should have been foreseen.
The NHS is operating under considerable financial pressure and, as the Public Accounts Committee has warned repeatedly, there are already serious threats to its financial sustainability.

It is unacceptable for patients to suffer the effects of further cost pressures caused by Government's sluggish response to the issues raised in our Report."

Further information

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