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DWINDLING legal aid payments and the Woolf Report recommendations have forced a Manchester firm to close its medical negligence department in what could become a trend for closures.
Betesh Fox & Co shut up shop after taking a "pragmatic business decision" that medical negligence work was no longer "commercially viable", even though the firm set up its own specialist department in 1993.
The practice is expanding its personal injury work instead, expanding that department by four to 23 solicitors.
"Everyone is aware of the threats to medical negligence and this could be the beginning of an avalanche," said personal injury managing partner Martin Coyne, referring to his belief that other firms in the North West will follow suit.
Ann Alexander, partner at leading medical negligence Sale-based firm Alexander Harris & Co, agreed that Coyne had a valid point.
She added: "Those firms which are very specialised and very committed to medical negligence cases will survive."
Coyne said: "Woolf is proposing a fixed cost of £2,500 to fund the cost of a medical negligence inquiry, and it simply does not cover it. Since 25 February 1995, we have only received £65 an hour from the Legal Aid Board, which is a very low rate of remuneration for more than 70 per cent of these cases, and they can take three or five years to conclude.
"It is a shame because the people losing out from this are very vulnerable."