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Stop lawyers creaming off money from NHS, say 75% of public

Three-quarters of the public think that the Government should do more to cut the amount of money lawyers are able to claim from the NHS in legal costs following clinical negligence cases, according to a new YouGov survey.

An overwhelming 82% of the 2,000 survey respondents do not agree that lawyers should receive more money in legal fees than the patient does in compensation, and 81% said they support ‘fixed costs’ for lawyers which would help to keep legal fees down.

At the beginning of the year the Government set out proposals for capping the amounts law firms can recover for costs related to low-value NHS negligence cases.

The Government highlighted one case where lawyers claimed £83,000 in legal costs but a patient was only awarded £1,000.

In total, the NHS paid out £1.5bn in clinical negligence costs in 2015/16, with legal costs accounting for 34% of that bill.

The consultation on the fixed recoverable costs scheme closed on 1 May. It proposes a fixed cap on the legal fees that can be charged for cases up to the value of £25,000 in England and Wales, which could result in £45m savings to the NHS a year.

However, the Medical Protection Society (MPS), which commissioned the survey, is calling on the Government to go further and include cases up to the value of £250,000.

Emma Hallinan, director of claims at MPS, said: ‘We fully support the introduction of mandatory fixed recoverable costs for claims of clinical negligence, and we understand the argument for not capping legal costs for the most expensive and complex claims, but we believe it is appropriate and viable to include claims up to £250,000.’

She highlighted a recent case involving a delayed diagnosis of a pituitary tumour which settled at £3,250 but legal costs of £72,320 were sought. That was reduced to £24,600 after a provisional assessment last summer, which found that the bill was disproportionate.

Ms Hallinan added: ‘This scheme presents an opportunity to create a more proportionate, fairer system while generating significant savings to the NHS – it is an opportunity that should not be wasted. We urge Government to listen to the strong views of the public and be bold when making its decision on the threshold.’

YouGov surveyed 2034 adults in Britain in February 2017, on behalf of the Medical Protection Society.