It has been reported that compensation pay outs for cases of medical negligence occurring prior to April 1995 have recently increased, despite the negligence occurring many years ago. It is reported that many Trusts in the last five years have paid out millions of pounds in respect of negligent injuries which occurred more than two decades ago.

The hospital trust accountable for the biggest historical negligence bill, at £8.4 million over the past five years, was Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

In Wales, the health boards are reported to have paid more than £160,000.00 last year for medical errors which happened more than 20 years earlier. Not all Welsh heath boards responded to requests for information.

Many patients who have suffered medical negligence have had to wait years, if not decades to receive compensation. A number of those affected require around the clock care, special equipment, adaptations to their home and costly treatment. This care cannot be put on hold until the NHS payment is made and some families have to try to fund this themselves, causing them additional stress and financial worry.

So why the long wait?

There are a number of factors which can impact on the timing of compensation, especially in claims relating to birth injuries. Some patients and families are not instantly aware that the injury was caused by negligence and they may not realise for some time after the event. Additionally, a number of medical experts may need to be involved, depending on the injury, and numerous medical examinations may be required, which can take time. Furthermore, the level of compensation cannot always be assessed until an affected child is older and has gone through certain development stages so that the extent of the injury can be considered and his or her future care needs fully evaluated.

One of the main reasons however for the postponement between an injury caused by negligence and a pay out, in our experience, is the delay in receiving a timely admission of liability from the Trusts involved. This results in protracted legal disputes, cost increases and avoidable and prolonged delays. Peter Walsh, Chief Executive from the Charity AvMA advised ‘We have seen claims that have taken over 10 years to resolve. Things have improved, but not enough has been done to speed up the process’.

If an early admission of liability is received, it is possible for an interim payment to be made to the patient whilst the full value of the claim is being explored. This ensures that the patient has access to funds for immediate care and treatment required. In cases involving brain injured patients, deputies (if needed) can be appointed early on in the process to help manage interim payments secured by the litigation before the claim has settled, and help pay for appropriate care/case management and even accommodation in advance of settlement easing the financial pressures on the family.

Postponing admissions in cases where negligence has occurred undoubtedly causes unnecessary anxiety and considerable financial hardship to those involved and can delay the provision of essential care for patients when they need it the most.