NHS to clamp down on legal fees
Unscrupulous lawyers will be targeted as part of a cost-cutting drive in the NHS, ministers have said.
Legal fees in clinical negligence claims are set to be capped under a package of reforms to save £80 million a year.
New rules would mean lawyers could only charge a set proportion of the compensation awarded in cases under £100,000.
Health Minister Ben Gummer said: "Safe, compassionate care is my upmost priority and to achieve this, the NHS must make sure every penny counts.
"Unscrupulously, some lawyers have used patient claims to load grossly excessive costs onto the NHS and charge far more than the patient receives in compensation.
"Our one nation approach is about being on the side of hard-working taxpayers and these financial controls will ensure money is pumped back into patient care."
Clinical negligence legal fees cost the health service £259 million in 2013/14 with the amount charged for small claims sometimes far exceeding the payout, according to the Department of Health.
It highlighted a case where a patient received £11,800 but the bill from the lawyer was £175,000.
The move is part of a series of changes that includes measures announced earlier this month to curb agency staffing rates and senior management salaries as well as restricting the use of management consultants.
Matthew Lee, professional services director at the Medical Defence Union, a leading indemnifier of doctors, said: "Even with the 2013 reforms, high legal costs charged by claimant solicitors continue to be a major part of the cost of clinical negligence claims.
"We still see hourly charging rates of over £400 meaning that these costs often far exceed the underlying compensation claim. This cannot be right and we support any proposals aimed at limiting these disproportionate charges.
"Patients often have to meet part or all of these costs themselves but the system must provide access to justice where patients have been negligently harmed. Legal fees must, therefore, be affordable and proportionate."