Debating the best way to compensate patients for clinical negligence
John Tingle, Lecturer in Law, Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham, unpicks the report from the Health and Social Care Committee on changes to the system for compensating patients who have been harmed
The debate about the best way to compensate patients for the negligence of health professionals is hotting up. The House of Commons Select Committee on Health and Social Care, chaired by former Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has recently published its report on NHS litigation reform (Health and Social Care Committee (HSCC), 2022). This has produced a radical set of proposals that, if adopted, would fundamentally change our clinical negligence compensation system. Among the oral and written evidence submitted by experts, patients and other stakeholders involved in litigation we can see divergent and controversial views on the efficacy of our current tort-based system.
When viewing the recommendations, it is important to guard against a purely economic perspective of the issues. The report clearly echoes the concerns of many that something must be done about the rising cost of clinical negligence in the NHS (Hyde, 2022). I agree, but at the same time, patients have been injured by those who were meant to care for them. It is important not to prejudice their right to sue based on the economics of the NHS and to maintain a balanced perspective on the issues. Rising costs are an acute issue but the reasons for the increase are many and cannot seemingly be laid solely at the door of lawyers and the adversarial nature of our tort compensation system.
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