The press has recently been littered with headlines blaming the rising legal bills of the NHS and local Councils on solicitors and the so dubbed ‘claims culture’ which the UK now finds itself in. It has been reported that compensation claims are becoming the number one concern for schools and that the NHS is having to set aside one seventh of its annual budget to pay out on medical negligence claims.
Whilst the focus of such reports is the resulting reduction in budgets available to these organisations, the trauma, injury and distress suffered by the individuals involved in such claims against schools and medical negligence claims is often overlooked. Where somebody has suffered serious injury, or even death, as a result of mistakes or failures, should they/their families not be entitled to some form of redress?
It is undeniable that the amount paid out in negligence claims has increased in recent years. Statistics relating to our local area demonstrate this as well as most. Almost Â£800,000 has been awarded in compensation to parents with pupils in Lancashire over the past five years and the bill to hospitals, primary care and mental health trusts in Lancashire has increased by nearly Â£11 million from 2010/11 to 2011/12. But is the point here not that the standards of care must have fallen in order for these claims to have been brought? Should this not be the main focus of concern?
What the media and general public are also sometimes missing is that claims will only be successful if they satisfy the legal requirements; ie. there must be have been a breach of the duty of care owed to the person. The hurdles are very high and standards of care must fall to a very low level for claims to be progressed and compensation to be awarded.
Recent reports claiming that such compensation claims are ‘immoral’ and ‘bleeding public services dry’ are putting a negative spin on claims against hospitals and schools for medical negligence or child accidents, putting claimants off claiming compensation they are entitled to.
Surely the general public have a right to receive an appropriate standard of care when being treated by the NHS? In addition, are parents not entitled to be secure in the knowledge that that their children are in a safe environment when they attend school? Of course, should claims with no merit be brought, the local authority/NHS has an absolute right to defend them, this is not being disputed.
However if things do go wrong, and negligence does occur, then people shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for claiming compensation as redress for their needless injury. It must not be forgotten that the wrong doing is the negligence by organisation/institution in the first place, therefore any expenses incurred as a means of rectification are completely down to them and their actions.
It is not disputed that the investigation of some of these claims can take years to conclude and large legal bills do eventually need to be met by the public sector. These costs are so often described a waste of tax payer’s money. Yet surely they are justified in that they allow failings within the NHS and schools to be identified and put right, in a hope that the same thing will not be allowed to happen in the future.