That is such an emotive headline – and such has been the response in certain areas of the lucrative Personal Injury legal profession.
In his speech to the Commons, Kenneth Clarke detailed the extent to which the Legal Aid budget was out of control – £914 million pounds worth out of control. He proposes to reduce it by £340 million.
No one has screamed louder than the ever expanding legal arena of Medical Negligence. It has been so very good to some lawyers.
Because of the all embracing nature of our welfare state – the NHS, owned by the tax payer, is invariably the defendant. The prosecution in these cases is also tax payer funded when legal aid is invoked. Tax payers suing tax payers.
Perhaps we should quantify ‘Justice’ in this context? Is a large cheque and a belated apology actually justice for someone whose life has been ruined by medical negligence?
The lawyers will tell you that quantum is arrived at by calculating (amongst other things) the price of the ‘continuing nursing care’ required by that person. Yet ‘continuing nursing care’ for anyone in need is already provided by the tax payer through the NHS. The lawyers will say that there is loss of wages – yet if you are unable to work again the Disability Living Allowance is provided by the State.
‘Ah But’! Say the lawyers, Mr X should be able to buy the finest wheelchair available, he shouldn’t have to rely on what the state can afford to pay for – do you see what I did there? – Because our lawyer is able to prove that this was ‘someone’s fault’ – the tax payer, via the NHS budget is still paying for the finest wheelchair that apparently he couldn’t afford to pay for via the err – NHS budget. Not only is he paying for it, but he is doing so in the form of a cheque, which the recipient is at liberty to decide that he doesn’t want to spend on a wheelchair; he is quite content with the one that the NHS has provided.
The outcome of medical negligence claims is notoriously difficult to predict. Those involving birthing problems take – on average – 11 years to settle. 11 years during which the ‘apology’ that virtually all claimants claim to have as their sole aim in taking action is not forthcoming, nor available to enable feelings to be mollified and the future to be faced, for of course an apology is tantamount to signing a blank cheque, so the apology doesn’t appear until long after the financial details have been settled.
Nor are the proverbial ‘lessons learnt’ attended to, for no fault has been proved yet; so no need for the inevitable case conference to discuss ways in which future Mothers might not be left unattended in the final stages of a difficult birth.
Nor is any money forthcoming to pay for the necessary walk in bath or wheelchair friendly shower for the fast growing child. It is for the local council to provide the hoist to lift the child who is no longer that 8lb bundle of joy but now nearer 8 stone. It is the NHS who provide, as best they are able, the physiotherapy that is so essential during the early growing months and years.
Meanwhile, the lawyers on both sides run up hugermongous bills, as they grapple with the lengthy reports from experts as to how long this child is likely to live…the defence will point to identical cases that only lived for 15 years, the prosecution pin their hopes on an obscure case of someone who lived for 86 years with identical injuries. Eventually they pluck a figure out of the clear blue sky and reach agreement.
To make matters more obscene, the money cannot be paid to the child, the lawyers will continue to earn fat fees as they ‘supervise’ the use of that money, and conjure up a ‘last will and testament’ on the child’s behalf in order that the money should have a final legal resting place – in the event that they guessed wrongly when it came to probable life expectancy.
Is this justice? Is this what that child, or more prosaically, his parents actually need?
To my mind, what they, or anybody whose life has been devastated by catastrophic injury needs, is the finest wheelchair, hoist, equipment, respite care, and all the other things that the lawyers will claim for – on day one. Not 11 years later.
The taxpayer pays for this, whether through the NHS directly or via the lawyers. Statistics published by the British Medical Journal calculate that one in ten patients admitted to NHS hospitals will fall victim to medical injury, which have now become Britain’s fourth biggest killer. These errors include missed diagnoses, slip-ups during operations, failure to identify the risks of procedures and poor or inadequate treatment.
Although many people believe that the increase in litigation against the NHS is due to the ‘compensation culture’ research shows that out of the approximate 800,000 adverse clinical events that are recorded by the NHS each year, only 1% of the victims make a claim; historically only 30% of that 1% make a successful claim.
A 2009 Sunday Times story (still online!) gives the uncomfortable facts regarding this ‘Justice’.
LAWYERS are earning £800 an hour from the National Health Service and taking “indefensible” fees of tens of millions of pounds in legal disputes. The money is coming from a government scheme intended to compensate patients for medical blunders and inadequate care, an investigation has found.
The compensation lawyers are claiming costs and “success fees” worth about £100m a year out of the scheme. In some cases the payouts claimed are 10 times more than the damages won by the patient.
Health professionals warn that it could get much more expensive. There is an estimated backlog of cases against the NHS amounting to £12 billion in claims, of which lawyers could get up to £6 billion.
That was in 2009. £6 billion which could, and should, be in the NHS budget to provide the best of everything that the disabled need, when they need it.
Do you really think that taking that money away from lawyers and putting it back in the NHS pot is denying a victim access to justice?