Solicitors bleeding NHS of millions, says report

A report commissioned by the Department of Health has attacked solicitors for costing the health service millions of pounds a year.

A three-year pilot study shows that far fewer cases are being referred to mediation than expected. It blames the reluctance of lawyers to use mediation and insufficient experience of the process in some of the law firms working for the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA).

The report, Mediating Medical Negligence Claims: An Option for the Future?, was supported by two mediation agencies, Cedr (The Centre for Dispute Resolution) and the ADR Group.

The NHSLA has a panel of 18 law firms, including Beachcroft Wansbroughs, Eversheds, Davies Arnold Cooper and Browne Jacobson. Litigation is thought to cost the health service at least £200m a year.

Cedr director Bill Marsh says: “Settlement discussions all too often take place only in the few weeks, or even days, leading up to trial. By this time huge legal fees have been spent, and the claimant and the clinician have been living under the spectre of the court case for several years.”

Leading clinical negligence defendant lawyer Gay Wilder, of Browne Jacobson, says: “I would like to think that a lot of the old ills have been cured, but it is fair to say that lawyers haven't been hell-bent on mediation.

“It's new and it's not something with which lawyers are as familiar with as they are with court procedures. Lawyers are human and you use what you are familiar with.”