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Government “slow and complacent” over clinical negligence costs rise: MPs

Health iStock 000005083391XSmall 146x219The Government has been “disappointingly slow and complacent” in its response to the rising costs of clinical negligence, MPs on the influential Public Accounts Committee have said.

In a report the committee suggested that “bold action” was required to address the impact of claims on resources available for frontline care and patients.

The MPs noted that the annual cost of clinical negligence for trusts had quadrupled over the last decade, from £0.4 billion in 2006–07 to £1.6 billion in 2016–17.

In their report, Managing the costs of clinical negligence in hospital trusts, the PAC said a lack of consistent data across the system meant s that the NHS still did not fully understand why some people suffering harm chose to make claims or the root causes of negligence. As a result it was not well placed to learn from its mistakes.

The committee said: “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.”

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “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.”

Hillier called on the NHS to 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,” she said.

The PAC chair also said that whistleblowers in the NHS were too often seen as a problem, and what was needed was a more open culture so that mistakes were 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,” she said.
 
“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."

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