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Friday, 2 February 2018

Medical Negligence - the latest attack on victims' rights

It seems that, every few months, the NHS and other medical bodies launch an attack on the rights of victims of medical negligence. Today, we hear that the NHS Federation has written to the latest Justice Secretary, David Gauke in order to try and reduce the levels of compensation to which victims are entitled.

The letter contains the remarkable statement –

"We fully accept that there must be reasonable compensation for patients harmed through clinical negligence, but this needs to be balanced against society's ability to pay.

So on the one hand, there is an acknowledgment that compensation must be reasonable and on the other hand a call for such payments to be reduced in line with government spending priorities. Once again we see the fingers pointed at victims, as if it is somehow their fault that payments for negligence continue to rise. This has been a developing pattern over the last few months.

In June 2017 the Medical Protection Society which represents many GPs called for a limit on the amount of loss of earnings that a victim can recover. They argued that such awards should not be calculated on the basis of real losses but a national average. This, of course, completely undermines the purpose of compensation., which is to put the victim back in the position they would have been in, but for the negligence. The victim’s liabilities will not be reduced in the same way. So a teacher with a mortgage who never works again recovers less than they were earning. Their mortgage payments will not be dropped. So they are at risk of losing their house through no fault of their own.

The same goes for damages for care. These can lead to an awards that looks like a lottery win. I make no excuse for re-posting a blog that I did in 2015 which demonstrated how one victim, on the basis of the support that he had received following a successful claim, had published his first book of poetry –

That is the heart of the matter. Victims who are injured through medical blunders are entitled, in any rational and caring society, to be compensated in full. I am not the first to say that the best way to reduce claims is to have an NHS free from the pressures that go with massive under-funding.

Focussing on reducing incidents will not only save public money, it will also mean that victims will not have to resort to stressful litigation to secure justice. It is still the case that many cases are fought by the medical profession to the very last minute before liability is admitted. Such a war of attrition damages everybody. I would certainly support any moves to reduce the cost of pursuing claims, but this must never be at the cost of undermining justice.