Claimant lawyers speak out over NHSLA criticism

Lawyers have rounded on NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) allegations that the claimant profession is bleeding the NHS dry by racking up massive legal bills.

Lawyers have rounded on NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) allegations that the claimant profession is bleeding the NHS dry by racking up massive legal bills.

In its submission to Lord Justice Jackson’s investigation into litigation costs, the NHSLA said current costs outstanding against the NHS were “indefensible”.

The authority stated: “The whole costs structure is indefensibly expensive in relation to the compensation awarded or agreed. It’s difficult to believe that it would be sustained were it not for the lack of motivation to change it.”

In retaliation, leading claimant lawyers said legal bills were a “drop in the ocean” compared with the annual NHS budget of £100bn.

“The costs of compensation were £264m in 2007-08 and legal costs for the claimants about £90m,” said Russell Jones & Walker clinical negligence partner James Bell. “So claimants’ costs are 0.9 per cent of the NHS budget.”

According to Sarah Harman of clinical negligence boutique Harman & Harman, the NHSLA was “wrong to criticise lawyers, who only come in at the end of the process”.

She added: “Many claims could be stopped with a simple apology – relatives of dead people aren’t very ­litigious.”

Irwin Mitchell was lambasted in the press for earning £11m at the 2008 year-end from bringing 364 successful cases against the NHS.
But the firm’s head of ­personal injury John Pickering said those who had suffered as a result of NHS negligence deserved compensation.

He added: “You have to recognise that it’s difficult law and professional negligence cases need a level of expertise, as these cases are invariably contested.”