Legal Eagle: NHS defends the indefensible

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I read with interest the all too familiar tale of the tragic loss of 20 month old Tahmeed Suhrid in the national press at the weekend. Tahmeed died in the Royal London Hospital after he had been born prematurely and needed intervention. After a number of months of treatment and after a series of catastrophic errors on the part of those caring for him he passed away in hospital.

We all know mistakes can happen and are willing to accept explanation for them on most occasions. Here, however, there was clear evidence of various acts of negligence but yet the NHS remained unwilling to provide a proper explanation, or admit that it made errors, so that firstly, the family can deal with what has happened rather than be kept in the dark and secondly, if compensation is to be paid the costs of achieving that compensation are kept to a minimum.

Tens of millions of pounds are wasted by the NHS on legal fees paid to their lawyers and incurred by lawyers instructed by Claimants purely because the NHS refuses to accept that errors have been made and defends the indefensible. The protocol that applies to these cases provides the NHS with an opportunity in every case to investigate a claim and provide its position before a Claimant is entitled to bring court proceedings.

Figures provided by the Society of Clinical Injury Lawyers (SCIL) show that 76% of cases of clinical negligence brought are only settled by the NHS after court proceedings have been issued which incurs significant additional legal fees. On an average that amounts to £65,000 per case. SCIL have gathered evidence that shows the NHS waited until well after proceedings had been issued to concede 2,500 cases recently and therefore have wasted £100 million in legal costs.

Tahmeed’s father has been quoted as saying that he was not looking for a cheque but for an explanation and maybe an apology and has stated that to this day the NHS have not said sorry. The government are seeking to launch a fixed costs regime this year for clinical negligence claims reducing the chances of families like Tahmeed’s being represented. The real answer clearly is to accept when mistakes have been made and provide explanation at an early stage if the NHS are serious about saving money in these cases. The culture of deny and delay incurs millions of pounds in costs and also appears to prevent the NHS from being seen to learn from mistakes and therefore ensure better care for us all in the future.

l Ben Hoare Bell LLP has specialist Medical Negligence Solicitors who can advise you about making a complaint or a claim for compensation to the NHS and other medical bodies. To speak to a Solicitor please phone 0191 565 3112 or email advice@benhoarebell.co.uk. Visit www.benhoarebell.co.uk for more information.