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Cap on lawyers’ costs in negligence cases to be introduced by NHS

There is currently no limit on legal costs and lawyers have been known to charge more than 80 times the amount awarded to victims.

The NHS is to introduce a cap on the amount of costs lawyers can recover in clinical negligence cases.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Social Care said the proposed cap will be applied to all cases up to £25,000 and will help to save the NHS up to £45 million a year.

The NHS clinical negligence bill topped £1.6 billion in 2016/17, four times the £400 million it was a decade ago.

There is currently no limit on legal costs that can be recouped and the money claimed by lawyers “takes vital funds away from frontline patient care at a time when the NHS is under pressure”, the spokeswoman said.

She added that there are numerous examples of lawyers charging more than 80 times the amount awarded to the victims in minor claims.

In one case, lawyers claimed £83,000 in legal costs for a case in which the patient was awarded £1,000.

The rising cost is now unsustainable and already means that vast resources that could be used by the NHS are being diverted Niall Dickson

The move, which follows a consultation last year, is part of a wider Government strategy to drive down rising clinical negligence costs, and comes in the same month that lawyers who target the NHS have been officially banned from having offices or advertising space in NHS hospitals.

Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “When things go wrong, we need a system that is just for those who have suffered but also just to other patients, both in terms of making sure we learn from mistakes and also pay legal costs in a proportionate and reasonable way.

“However sometimes we end up paying legal fees that are much, much higher than the actual damages incurred – which may be good for lawyers but is a terrible use of money that could be spent on patient care.

“This should not obscure the simple truth that the biggest way to cut negligence costs is to reduce patient harm in the first place, which is why we will continue a relentless focus to make our NHS the safest healthcare system in the world.”

A group of experts from across the Government, NHS and legal profession will come together to work on introducing the cap, and will report in the autumn.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, welcomed the announcement.

He said: “It must surely be fair to cap the amount lawyers can charge for their costs, and we welcome the decision to set up a group to work on this – we trust that the Government will act quickly on its recommendations.

“We are also pleased that ministers have signalled their determination to tackle the wider issue of clinical negligence claims. The rising cost is now unsustainable and already means that vast resources that could be used by the NHS are being diverted elsewhere.

“We fully accept that there must be reasonable compensation for patients harmed through clinical negligence, but this needs to be balanced against society’s ability to pay.

“We also accept that the greatest prize is safe care – no health system can eliminate mistakes but the campaign to put safety at the heart of the NHS is critical.”

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