Following a recent pilot, the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) has launched its first mediation panel for personal injury and clinical negligence claims.

It claims to be an alternative avenue to litigation with the potential to provide redress beyond financial compensation by giving patients, and their families, direct answers to their complaints.

It also purports to offer the opportunity to explore their disputes face-to-face at a quicker pace than traditional litigation.

This potentially has many benefits. The NHSLA stress that the parties’ legal rights remain intact and that the Claimant can proceed to court if the mediation is unsatisfactory.

However, the ability to distinguish between a satisfactory and unsatisfactory result will often require legal knowledge and professional support.

A patient and/or their family members who already feel let down by the medical community may find mediation an uncomfortable and frustrating experience if faced with the same organisation who they feel wronged by.

Although the mediator will be independent, the hospital trust’s representatives at mediation will certainly have received legal advice, or be from the legal department itself and inevitably there will be an inequality of arms unless the individual patient brings along professional legal support.

Patients shouldn’t feel pressured into mediation, and it should be seen as complementary rather than a replacement for litigation.

In my opinion, mediation could be an excellent option for some clients but many of the benefits could be achieved through litigation if trusts and the NHSLA acted in a less adversarial manner.

If earlier admissions were the norm to avoid drawn out investigations, the complaints processes more open, and if the NHSLA were more prepared to make apologies rather than just offering financial compensation then patients and their families might feel more satisfied with the litigation process.

Of course the NHSLA’s enthusiasm for alternative dispute resolution is to be embraced but hopefully their approach will translate into the wider NHS complaints processes and litigation.