NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

English Hospitals Face Clinical Negligence Claims

May 7, 2001

According to an investigation by the National Audit Office (NAO), National Health Service hospitals in England face massive liabilities totaling around $6 billion for clinical negligence.

In a report to Parliament, the spending watchdog said 23,000 claims of clinical negligence were outstanding in March last year. Further claims were expected from incidents that had not yet been reported.

Although medical litigation in the UK is not as common or as costly as in the United States, the report shows that Britons are learning fast from their American cousins.

  • The rate of new claims rose by 72 percent between 1990 and 1998.
  • There were some 10,000 new claims last year alone.
  • Claims settled in 1999-2000 amounted to $386 million.
  • This was up from $107 million in 1998-1999 and $75 million in 1997-1998.

According to the report, legal costs exceeded the damages paid in two-thirds of all small- and medium-sized claims. Claims sometimes took 10 years to settle.

The NAO recommends that the government investigate setting up arbitration panels to offer apologies and other non-financial remedies for small- and medium-sized claims.

  • Research shows that only 30 percent to 39 percent of patients want money when they lodge a claim.
  • But 50 percent or more want an admission of fault and an investigation to prevent recurrence.
  • A similar report from Wales recently found that most claims are due to misdiagnosis, followed by surgical mistakes, drug complications and delay in treatment.

Negligence claims are administered by the NHS Litigation Authority, which offers hospital trusts a range of insurance schemes in return for varying levels of premiums. The trusts pay all costs of settlement below their insurance excess level and 20 percent above it. The Litigation Authority pays the balance.

Source: Reuters Health, "English Hospitals Face 3.9 Billion Pound Bill For Clinical Negligence," May 3, 2001.


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