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Clinical Negligence Claims taking over 1/5 of NHS budgets

08th November 2013

The revelation that one fifth of the NHS’s budget is spent on insurance premiums to defend cases of clinical negligence has shone the spotlight on damages awarded to those who suffer as a result of medical mistakes. But who is there to help patients and their families ensure their financial settlement lasts a lifetime?

SARAH FRENCH reports
 

Cases of medical negligence or major personal injury claims are not made public very often, but when they are typically they grab the headlines for the sums of money involved and the degree of injury caused to the victims.

In the most severe cases, damages can run into millions of pounds which, as well as compensating the severity of the injury, reflect the length of time and level of care needed.

For families already having to support a severely disabled relative, the pressure and responsibility of managing a multi-million pound payment on their behalf may be too much to bear.

Which is where the Court of Protection Deputies come in. They are legal specialists who are appointed and entrusted by the courts as an independent third party to act for people who have lost capacity and to represent them in financial decisions.

It may be reassuring for the public to know that the management of compensation is strictly and professionally controlled after it was revealed that the NHS spends one fifth of its budget on insurance premiums to cover legal costs and potentially substantial damages arising from successful claims.

A review by the National Audit Office reported that it amounts to nearly £700 being spent on clinical negligence cover for every live birth in England. Laura Blackwell, director of health value for money studies at the National Audit Office, said the number of maternity claims had risen by 80 per cent in the last five yeas, but there had also been a rise in claims across the NHS.

Figures from the NHS Litigation Authority released last year showed the health service in England paid out more than £3bn in compensation claims linked to maternity care between 2000 and 2010.

There are only a handful of Court of Protection Deputies in the North East who specialise in working with injured individuals who receive compensation.

One of them is Karen Pratt, a Partner at BHP Law, which has offices across the region. Karen explains: "Someone who has suffered a catastrophic injury but still has a normal life expectancy will need some level of support for the rest of their life. They may need 24-hour care and need a specially adapted home, as well as having the normal day-to-day financial requirements.

“Sometimes family members can help; in other cases it can be very hard if you're already caring for a relative to know how to protect a settlement that can run into millions of pounds.

“You can be making very big decisions on behalf of clients that will affect them every day. It can be a big weight off the shoulders of the family to know that trusted support is there to make important, quality of life decisions on the relative's behalf.”

Karen, who is currently managing more than £60m on behalf of clients as a Court of Protection deputy, adds: "We work very closely with clients and their families and build up a strong relationship with them that's based on absolute trust.

"We will be with them for the rest of our client's life and a lot of our work doesn't even come under the heading of law; it can be about finding them the right carer, helping them buy a house, organising a holiday or even getting their football season ticket."

Karen's clients range from children with cerebral palsy occasioned via birth injury, through to children and adults who have been injured in accidents.

BHP Law is one of the few legal practices in the region to have Court of Protection deputies, an area of law that is not well known, despite the NHS spending nearly £500m on insuring against just the type of cases that these legal experts manage. The firm is planning for the continuation and growth of its work in this specialist area.

Even solicitors working on personal injury cases are not always aware of how to achieve the maximum for their clients by ensuring that professional deputyship costs form part of a compensation claim. Karen works closely with other solicitors to prepare witness statements which set out the likely costs of a Court of Protection Deputy. As these costs generally run to six figure sums it is vital that solicitors include these costs as part of their client’s claim.

Karen, who is based in Darlington and is also a qualified independent financial advisor, explains: "If the person has suffered a catastrophic injury and has lost capacity their personal injury lawyer needs to include deputyship costs in the claim before it gets to court. This ensures that this valuable support forms part of their claim, rather than the costs having to come out of any award of compensation later."

Karen adds: "In terms of clients’ personal sadness we wish there were fewer of these cases, but accidents do happen. None of us knows what is around the corner and life can change in a second. “However, for lawyers serving clients, and especially for the families they represent, it is reassuring to know that there is support."

If you think we could help you make your settlement last, please contact our Court of Protection team on 0800 590 019 at your local office or request a callback and a member of the team will contact you at a time to suit you.

Karen Pratt Partner