NHS litigation

ACSO submission to the Health and Social Care Committee call for evidence on NHS litigation reform

Posted on Tue, 02/11/2021

Today, the Health and Social Care Committee published the responses submitted to its call for evidence on National Health Service (NHS) litigation reform.

The response submitted by the Association of Consumer Support Organisations (ACSO) highlighted how the cost of litigation and its impact on the financial stability of the NHS should be viewed in the context of sharp increased in the overall budget for the health service.

Rachel Cairnes, policy and public affairs advisor at ACSO, said "Since it was established in 1948, the NHS has seen average annual budgetary rises of 3.7 per cent. Moreover, in 2020, the public healthcare spending of gross domestic product (GDP) in the UK rose to 10.43 per cent, a significant increase from 7.97 per cent in 2019. Given population increases, demographic changes, healthcare demand, inflation and overriding cross-party political sentiment, there is little doubt it will rise further still in future.

"In 2020/21, liabilities arising from claims under all of the NHS Resolution (NSHR) indemnity schemes totalled £82.1billion) because of the lower levels of clinical activity that took place owing to the covid-19 pandemic. Likewise, the cost of settling claims in the 2020/21 financial year reduced across all schemes by £120million, to £2.26billion.

"Although the cost of litigation is not inconsiderable, it arises chiefly owing to failures in patient safety. A 2001 study concluded that between 8 - 10 per cent of NHS hospital admissions involve an adverse event, resulting in harm to the patient. Between half and one third of these adverse events are thought to be preventable. Reducing avoidable error must take top priority. There is a need to hold medical professionals to account for any breaches in the duty of care they owe to patients; the financial cost to the NHS should come second to the human impact".

Cairnes continued by stating: "In discussing whether the cost of litigation against the NHS may lead to its financial instability, and that this therefore means it must somehow be reduced or eliminated entirely, one may forget that individuals or groups claiming compensation may have suffered considerable, sometimes life-changing harm. If that is the case, then widespread affection for the NHS should not mean it is immune from criticism."

ACSO members can download the full submission from the members' area of the ACSO website.