28 April 2022

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News in brief: Diane Pattenden retires; MPs urge reform to negligence compensation

Diane Pattenden retires from the ACL

By Stephen Averill

There is a well-worn phrase – All good things must come to an end. I feel this is very apt as we all bid farewell to Diane as she begins her very well-deserved retirement.

When Diane was employed by the ACL in 2009 as operations manager, it did not take her long to settle in and prove herself to be a huge asset to the running of the company. Over the years, Council members have come and gone and some have even returned for further stints but, throughout her time with the ACL, Diane has been a firm hand on the tiller and instructed and guided new Council members about their role and responsibilities.

As most of you will know, this is my second stint on Council. I first joined in 2013 and took on the role of treasurer. Without Diane’s calm, unflappable support, I would have had a very difficult job getting to grips with everything that I was required to do.

Diane, you will be missed by everyone in the ACL but from the bottom of our hearts we thank you for your tremendous hard work and support over years. You will be an exceedingly tough act to follow. We wish you long years of health and happiness and good times to enjoy with family and friends and a chance to indulge in your own projects, plans and dreams.

 

MPs urge radical reforms to negligence compensation system

The government should remove the need to prove clinical negligence from NHS compensation claims when things go wrong in a radical overhaul of a system which last year paid out £2.2bn, a report from MPs has said.

In a report on NHS litigation reform, the health and social care committee said the current system for compensating injured patients in England was “not fit for purpose”. Noting that claimant costs accounted for a fifth of all cash payments associated with clinical negligence, the committee said evidence it received indicated that “law firms gravitate towards higher-value cases, reject those that require a significant initial outlay, and are driven by the pursuit of legal fees”.

While there were “many excellent solicitors who act in the best interests of people who have suffered terrible trauma”, the testimony from clients on how they valued solicitors’ “guidance, advocacy and compassion” underlined the necessity for change, it went on.

“Legal professionals will only take commercially viable cases with a prospect of success, meaning many people who have suffered harm will never benefit from expert advocacy.”

The proposed reforms would introduce an administrative scheme which would establish entitlement to compensation on the basis that correct procedures were not followed and the system failed to perform rather than clinical negligence. This inquisitorial, rather than adversarial, system “would prioritise learning from mistakes and would reduce costs”.

Victims could only litigate once they had been through the system.

The committee said the new administrative body should initially focus on birth injury cases – “which, typically, are the most expensive, have high levels of patient need and take years to resolve” – before expanding to all claims once it has become embedded.

MPs made recommendations to reform the current system in the meantime, calling for compulsory ADR before any court proceedings and a standardised process of investigation to learn from mistakes.

They expressed concern about the government’s plans for fixed recoverable costs for low-value claims, which the ACL also criticised in its consultation response this week.

“The government is right to try and rein in excessive legal costs, but until the administrative scheme we are recommending is introduced in full, it must ensure that all injured patients retain access to adequate legal representation.

“In response to this report, the government should set out the safeguards it will introduce to ensure that fixed recoverable costs do not restrict access to legal representation for the poorest and most vulnerable injured patients.”

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt (pictured), who chairs the committee, said: “The system of compensating patients for negligence in the NHS is long overdue for reform. We’re urging the government to adopt our recommendations to reduce both the number of tragedies and the soaring costs to the NHS.

“It is unsustainable for the NHS in England to pay out more than £2bn in negligence payments every year – a sum equal to the cost of running four hospitals – a figure that will double in 10 years if left unchecked.

“Under the current system, patients have to fight for compensation, often a bitter, slow and stressful experience with a quarter of the enormous taxpayer-funded sums ending up in the pockets of lawyers. “We need a better system that learns from mistakes, following the lead of countries like New Zealand and Sweden. We must move away from a culture of blame to one that puts the prevention of future harms at its core.”