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GP consortia face liability for soaring legal fees

By Lilian Anekwe

Exclusive: GP face the prospect of dealing with a soaring number of NHS litigation claims once PCTs are abolished, new figures show.

Figures from the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) obtained by Pulse show nearly £15m was paid out last year in clinical negligence claims against PCTs and medical staff directly employed by PCTs.

The authority - on behalf of PCTs – paid total of £14.7m in 2009/10, a 71% increase on the £8.6m paid the previous year.

The stark risk continues a trend over the last 10 years. When the NHSLA started handling the clinical negligence scheme for PCTs in 2002/03, the payout was just £509,000.

The average payout has risen from £7,481 then to £98,980 last year, more than a 13-fold increase in less than a decade.

The burden of handling these cases may fall to GP commissioners once the NHS reforms are pushed through, and after PCTs complete the process - begun under the Transforming Community Services policy - of divesting themselves of provider responsibilities.

The role of the NHSLA – which handles clinical negligence claims for all NHS bodies in England - is currently part of the Government's review of Arm's Length Bodies.

The authority say that in cases where claims are made against NHS bodies ‘which no longer exist because of restructuring within the NHS', the legal defendant is the legal ‘successor body' to the defunct NHS body.

GP experts fear the buck may be passed to GP consortia. Dr John Waters, a GP in Bournemouth with a law degree who writes clinical negligence and malpractice reports, said: ‘In theory clinical negligence can be established if there is agreement that a respectable body of GPs or other healthcare professionals would not have supported the disputed clinical action taken.

‘But there would be a conflict of interest if I were writing reports clinical negligence claims for other staff employed or commissioned by my GP consortia.'

Threat of litigation Making your consortia a success

Find out what steps your practice should be taking to prepare for GP commissioning at the Essential Commissioning Skills seminar on 15 Feb and 3 March – more information here.