An increase in GP clinical negligence claims is ‘not an indication of declining medical standards’, GP medical defence experts have said in response to new data.
NHS Resolution’s annual report for 2021/22, published last week, showed that the number of clinical negligence claims and reported incidents received between the start of April 2021 and the end of March 2022 has increased 13% from 13,351 in 2020/21 to 15,078.
The main driver of this increase is the ‘bulk take-on of general practice indemnity claims for pre-1 April 2019 incidents from medical defence organisations’.
A total of 2,005 existing liability scheme for general practice (ELSGP) claims were moved from Medical Protection Society (MPS) in 2021/22, NHS Resolution said.
The report added: ‘However, our clinical negligence scheme for general practice (CNSGP) scheme for incidents from 1 April 2019 continues to mature, with 1,502 claims received in 2021/22 compared to 973 in the previous year.’
It said that more cases were closed across the general practice indemnity (GPI) book this year, but that this was ‘expected’ and ‘linked to the increased numbers of cases within both CNSGP and ELSGP’.
Payments made on behalf of GPI also increased to £85.0m from £62.4m in 2020/21, ‘reflecting the continuing maturing of our GPI claims book’, said NHS Resolution.
More generally, NHS Resolution said the provision for the liabilities arising from claims has ‘increased by £43.4bn (50.8%) from £85.2bn to £128.6bn, primarily due to a technical accounting change affecting the provision’.
The Medical Defence Union (MDU) said it is ‘extremely worrying’ that the amount of money earmarked to cover the total cost of clinical negligence claims against the NHS in England has risen to such a figure.
It is the first time the provision for claims has risen above £100bn, it said.
The MDU said in its press statement: ‘The report reveals the recent 51% increase in claims obligations is due to the change in the Treasury discount rate applied to compensation payouts. It is not an indication of declining medical standards and NHS Resolution’s chief executive said in her report that she wanted to “pay tribute to our incredible staff who go above and beyond every day to deliver to the best of their ability for the NHS and the patients we all work for”.’
Dr Michael Devlin, MDU head of standards and liaison, said: ‘The scale of the costs facing the NHS for clinical negligence claims will have an impact on the public purse at a time when the NHS needs every penny to go towards treating patients and reducing waiting lists.
‘As explained in the NHS Resolution report, the increase in the cost of clinical negligence in the latest NHS figures is caused by changes to the way damages are calculated. The only way to tackle this is for the government to grasp the nettle and move ahead with the comprehensive legal reforms needed to the current system.
MPS medical director Dr Rob Hendry said: ‘At a time when resources within the NHS continue to be constrained, it is concerning to see the cost of claims against the NHS rise to £2.4bn in 2020/2021 – an increase of 8.7% since the previous year.
‘The annual cost of clinical negligence to the NHS has nearly doubled over the past ten years – increasing by 88% from 1,277.3m in 2011/12 to 2,402.9m this year. It will be unsustainable if the cost of clinical negligence continues to rise at this rate.’
He added: ‘Comprehensive legal reforms are required to strike a balance between compensation that is reasonable but also affordable. The Government committed to publishing a clinical negligence strategy by 2018.
‘While the Covid-19 pandemic has been a pressing priority in recent years, the cost of clinical negligence cannot be ignored.’
Last year, clinical negligence litigation cost the NHS £2.17bn – up from £900m 10 years ago.
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