Yesterday I attended the Westminster Healthcare Forum keynote seminar focusing on the funding of clinical negligence claims going forward, the possibility of early intervention, alternative redress schemes and the future of NHS resolution.
The seminar was chaired by Eleanor Smith MP and Baroness Cumberlege, the latter of whom conducted the National maternity review for NHS England resulting in the Each Baby Counts programme run by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the so-called RRR scheme being proposed by the Department of Health with the aim of more rapid resolution and redress for birth injury claims.
The event was attended by senior partners of law firms specialising in clinical negligence claims, both those that represent the defendant NHS Trust or doctor concerned, and those that represent the injured individuals seeking to bring a compensation claim.
In addition, the seminar was very well attended by specialist barristers, legal expenses insurers, medical professionals, professional indemnity bodies, costs draftsmen for the NHS and senior members of NHS Resolution. As is to be expected, the thought provoking talks about the ever increasing cost of clinical negligence claims to the NHS and GPs and suggestions as to how both sides could try to work more collaboratively in the future to limit the increasing costs whilst still ensuring that injured individuals are properly cared for, led to some quite lively debate.
I was though pleased to see that although the delegates came from a variety of different and sometimes directly opposing positions, the primary focus of almost all concerned was that of patient safety and how the Duty of Candour and the claims process in general can provide an opportunity to learn from mistakes made and to improve patient safety and outcomes going forward.
Professor Tim Draycott, Consultant Obstetrician who has acted as a medico-legal expert in numerous cases and is now working with NHS Resolution to try to reduce the cost of birth injury claims, gave a very persuasive speech on the simple fact that the easiest way to reduce the cost of clinical negligence claims, is to reduce the incidences of avoidable harm in the first place. He highlighted in particular that better training and supervision can be an extremely cost-effective way of preventing incidences of avoidable harm.
The report of the National Audit Office last week warned that the current rate of increase of the cost of clinical negligence claims is unsustainable and therefore I appreciate that this is something that has to be actively addressed. However, when a patient is injured through clinical negligence, the impact on the patient, their family and indeed the clinicians concerned, can be absolutely devastating.
It is only right that the patient is able to obtain compensation to access the care and equipment that they need as a result to live their lives as independently and productively as possible. Clinical negligence claims also play a part in providing the opportunity to learn from what has happened so that the same mistake is not repeated over and over again.
This is a debate that I am sure will continue long into the future and there are no easy solutions, but it was reassuring to hear that almost everyone appreciated that the needs of the patient should remain at the heart of the debate.