The National Health Service has struck a blow against 72 firms around the country by producing a provisional list of only 18 that it will instruct for its £200m-a-year medical negligence work.
Until now individual NHS trusts have instructed their own firms 90 around the country. But following a two-year review initiated by the previous Conservative government, the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) has created a provisional panel of only 18 that it will impose on local trusts.
Firms not on the list are believed to include Cole & Cole, Dickinson Dees, Smith & Graham, Merriman White and The Lewington Partnership, which has more than 100 NHS trusts as clients and which has claimed to be "confident that it has the leading all-round healthcare law team in the country".
Barry Speker, managing partner of Newcastle firm Samuel Phillips & Co, also not on the list, warned he might seek a judicial review claiming the criteria for selecting the firms was arbitrary.
Speker said: "We are not happy about this and are not going to accept it." He warned there would be a wave of redundancies at firms failing to make the list as well as defections of staff to successful practices.
Charles Graham, head of medical negligence at Oxford firm Cole & Cole, said: "I am disappointed for us but just as disappointed for clients who have instructed the firm since the late 1940s and will now be prevented from doing so should they want to."
Steve Walker, chief executive of the NHSLA, said the quality of work provided by firms instructed by individual trusts had varied widely.
All major cases arising from the beginning of this month will be assigned, under three-year contracts, only to firms on the list. Those not on the list will see their existing case load slowly diminish as cases settle.
Trusts can still instruct their own firms on non-medical negligence matters but they are likely increasingly to instruct the 18 panel firms that will be handling their core negligence work.
Stuart Knowles, head of medical negligence at The Lewington Partnership, said that his firm was still determined to get on the panel and that it ruled out redundancies. "We still have hundreds of matters for NHS clients," he said.
The NHSLA refused to publish a list but the following firms are believed to be on it: