Compensation claims for multi million pound sums against GPs and consultants in private practice have risen three-fold over the last decade, according to figures released in March by the Medical Defence Union (MDU).
In 2015, the MDU settled 12 compensation claims for more than £1m on behalf of its GP and consultant members. By contrast, in 2005 just four settled claims exceeded the £1m mark and in 1995 only one patient received over £1m in compensation from the MDU.
Over the past three years alone more than £100m has been paid out by the MDU to compensate patients and pay legal costs in 36 medical negligence claims that exceeded £1m. The highest amount paid out by the MDU was £9.2m to compensate a patient rendered tetraplegic after spinal surgery and to pay legal costs. In another case, involving a GP, £8.5m in compensation and legal costs was paid for a missed diagnosis of a subarachnoid haemorrhage.
Dr Michael Devlin, head of professional standards and liaison at the MDU, said: “We are seeing disturbing rises in the cost of clinical negligence claims and a surge of multi million pound damages awards against our GP and consultant members. These payments are no reflection on clinical standards, which remain high, but rather a result of a combination of economic pressure and an outdated legal system meaning compensation costs are calculated on the basis of private, rather than NHS care.
“Medical claims inflation is running at 10% each year and the size of claims is doubling every seven years.
A claim costing £9m today is likely to cost at least £18 million by 2022.
“The combination of the increases in the size and number of compensation claims is leading to a toxic mix in which some GPs say indemnity is becoming unaffordable for them. If doctors are deterred from the profession or from taking part in certain work, that will be bad for the NHS and bad for patients.
“While GPs are acutely aware of the rising cost because they have to pay for their own indemnity, the high cost of claims is also a problem for the wider NHS. The NHS Litigation Authority pays out compensation claims on behalf of NHS trusts in England and is facing total estimated liabilities of £28.3bn which will have to be met by the taxpayer.
“The cost of compensation is unaffordable throughout the NHS and needs to be addressed by the government through legal reform. This is the only effective way to relieve the pressure on individual GPs and on the wider health service. The reforms the MDU advocates would see patients compensated appropriately but in a fairer and more affordable way.”