Headlines: May 5th, 2001

Outstanding claims alleging medical negligence amount to 2.6 billion pounds, with an estimated liability of a further 1.3 billion pounds where claims have not yet been received. A new report by the National Audit Office reveals that for most claims up to 50,000 pounds the legal costs exceeded the amount of damages paid. Because litigation is such an inefficient process for these claims it urges NHS Trusts to look at alternatives.The report suggests that one alternative would be to treat claims up to 50,000 pounds as complaints rather than as cases centred on the payment of damages. Using the complaints process a Trust would give a full explanation and, if appropriate, an apology and offer compensation. If the offer was not acceptable the patient could take the case to a regional panel who would apply current legal criteria for deciding whether clinical negligence had occurred. The panel would have the power to make an award up to a given ceiling.

The advantage of treating claims as complaints is that non-financial remedies could be employed. These might include taxis for hospital visits, rapid readmission for a further operation and child care and other support while undergoing further treatment.