Covid-19 litigation threatens huge negligence burden

The NHS will struggle to recover from the strain of the coronavirus pandemic unless urgent action is taken to relieve it from the burden of clinical negligence claims, the Medical Defence Union (MDU) has warned.

With an extra £3bn going to help the NHS prepare for a second wave of the Coronavirus, the defence body warned it was a sobering thought that over two-thirds of this figure would be swallowed up by the amount paid out by NHS Resolution over the previous year through its clinical negligence schemes. 

In 2019-20 £2.32bn was paid, a figure that has doubled in the five years since 2014-15.

Dr Mike Devlin

Dr Michael Devlin, MDU head of professional standards and liaison, said the cost of clinical negligence claims at this time of national crisis should concern everyone. 

‘While future liabilities have not increased this year, we mustn’t be complacent. Claim numbers have increased by 6% in secondary care and we are concerned that they could increase further as a result of the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

‘Every example of negligence takes its toll on the patients and families involved, but the compensation being paid out puts enormous pressure on NHS funding, especially at a time when the NHS needs to recover from the pandemic.’

He said the pandemic had provided a golden opportunity to re-evaluate what is important to us as a society. ‘It is vital that the Government acts to ensure that the NHS is exempted from Covid-19 related litigation, and the additional distress and anxiety it inevitably causes.

‘And this should be coupled with tort reform to tackle the sums being lost to front line clinical care through unsustainable compensation payments.’

The MDU’s fair compensation campaign is calling for reforms including repeal of Section 2(4) of the 1948 Law Reform Act requiring patients treated by the NHS to be compensated for negligently caused damage on the basis that all their future care will be provided in the private sector.