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Health Insight August 2001: Keeping litigation costs down


Health ministers are considering ways in which to control the increasing cost of medical litigation faced by the NHS. The National Audit Office has estimated that settling outstanding and expected claims could cost the health service £3.9bn. Alan Milburn has said, ‘The current system does not work either for patients or for staff.’

Options under review include speedy settlements with fixed rate payments, a ‘no-fault’ compensation scheme, structured annuities instead of lump sums, and greater use of mediation. Such approaches would speed up the process and reduce the proportion of the amount paid that goes into the hands of lawyers. Some patients with smaller claims have received less money after litigation than have their solicitors.

A white paper on the issue will be published early next year. However, Mr Milburn has said he wants to avoid creating ‘a culture of compensation’. The prospect of change has been welcomed by both the Patients’ Association and by the Medical Defence Union, which represents doctors accused of medical errors.

Sources: BMJ 14th July, BBC Online, Press release (DoH)

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