Loathe as I am to complain further about the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) it does appear that they are intent on causing my clients and I deep distress. I am sure (and indeed I know) that there are plenty of conscientious, over-worked people in the NHSLA who are aiming to provide an excellent legal service and to deal with claims fairly and expeditiously. However it appears that some cases seem to fall through the net, as a result of which usually there is a vulnerable injured patient who is not receiving an adequate service.
I have written previously about the issue of getting money out of the NHSLA. In several of my cases this has provided a significant difficulty and I know anecdotally from talking to other solicitors who deal with the same type of work that it is far from an unusual problem.
Today however I write about getting a decision out of the NHSLA.
Last week I had a joint settlement meeting in a case which is worth over £2 million . The claim started in 2009 when the negligence occurred and has been going through the court system for about 3½ years. My client is very vulnerable in terms of her physical disabilities and she has had a hard time waiting for matters to be resolved. The issue of whether there was fault was only agreed in January 2014. Since that time my client has been waiting for many months, over a year for the issue of the value of the claim to be resolved.
Last week we had a meeting between the two legal teams. My client was available by Skype, being unable to travel. She finds sitting in one position difficult and needs considerable help with her mobility. She is unable to stand or indeed to turn over in bed without assistance. She is in essence to be considered paralysed save for one limb. Therefore sitting around for the whole day is a long and difficult process for her. This is a woman, I remind you, that did not have this problem prior to the medical negligence. Put simply incompetence by NHS staff have caused the problems from which she currently suffers. Her condition is permanent. This is a woman who was previously in employment and enjoyed an active social life.
The legal teams worked hard over many hours to come to some form of agreement. It seemed towards the end of perhaps 5 or 6 hours’ worth of discussions that it was possible for the matter to be resolved. It needed a rejigging of some of the figures here and there and it needed somebody at the NHSLA to give authority for the case to be settled.
The proposal does not involve more money, but a reallocation of certain funds. It is not a complicated business. It is not an expensive business, but it does require the agreement of the NHSLA.
My client has by this stage waited for 5 or 6 hours anxiously to know whether her claim has settled. Much as she may think I am the best solicitor in the world, she is quite frankly fed up with her legal case. Everybody is fed up with the case. Everybody knows it should be settled and the legal teams have worked hard to come up with an agreement.
“No one is available” at the NHSLA to give authority.
Now this is not a case where the value is less than £100,000, where another case handler could deal, where the meeting between the legal team was organised at the last minute. The meeting of the legal teams to try and settle this high value claim was agreed much earlier in the year. It was difficult to get a date when two QCs, a junior barrister, two solicitors and my client were all available at the same time. This was a feat of administrative efficiency.
However the case cannot settle. There is no settlement because apparently the NHSLA cannot find anyone on the day of the long-arranged meeting who can give authority to enter into the settlement agreed by their legal team.
Shortly afterwards I am contacted by my client who cannot understand the logic of this. This is not a small claim she mentions. It has been going on for a long time. There is a hugely expensive trial that is due to take place in June if we do not settle. This is an expensive business. But no! The NHSLA does not respond or if it does their message does not come through to this office.
My client has now been in limbo for a week. Understandably she is distressed, angry and agitated by what has happened. It is an insult. When you are settling a claim of any value, but particularly in circumstances where the injury to the client is so devastating and the impact on the quality of her life is so enormous, the very least you can do as a matter of courtesy is be available to approve the settlement if negotiations prove to be fruitful.
As it is my client endures more distress and anxiety. I meanwhile incur more costs preparing for a trial.
I know the NHSLA is over-worked and I know that they have a need for more staff and more resources. That does not an excuse in any case, but particularly in the large cases, leaving a client in a state of anxiety because no one is available to make a decision.
That is not client care. That is not appropriate. This is poor legal service to my client and poor legal service to the NHS.