The government has been urged to take action over disproportionate legal costs awarded to clinical negligence claimants' solicitors in Conditional Fee Agreements (CFAs).
An editorial this week in the Medical Defence Union's (MDU) publication Journal says that clinical negligence contributions by NHS trusts in England are expected to rise by 80% next year.
The MDU has said it agrees with the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) that disproportionate legal costs awarded to claimants' solicitors in CFAs are a key reason for this increase.
The MDU, which represents more than half of UK doctors, questioned the fairness of CFAs, which its says account for around 19% of UK medical cases brought against MDU members.
It revealed that claimants' solicitors may demand 50% higher hourly rates than defendants' solicitors, and that the costs awarded in cases brought under CFAs were significantly higher.
For example, in the last three years, in litigated CFA cases where the average damages were £5,000, the average claimants' costs were more than four times higher at £22,000.
Dr Karen Roberts, MDU medicolegal adviser, said: "Of course, claimants who have been negligently harmed by their doctor should be compensated, but a system that provides solicitors' firms with rewards that dwarf the value of a claim needs to be reformed."
"The number of clinical negligence cases the MDU sees is not increasing, but the cost of settling cases is rising by more than the rate of inflation. In common with the NHSLA, we see one of the key inflationary factors as the excessive legal costs awarded to claimants' solicitors.
"It cannot be right that legal firms should continue to receive payments out of all proportion to the amount of damages awarded, particularly when these costs are funded, ultimately by the taxpayer."
Your comments (terms and conditions apply):
"Sadly it is very difficult for public to obtain funding from legal services. As an individual with a particular case at this time, I am having to explore no win no fee and CFA in order to bring the case. In our case, in particular, the MDU could be more involved in bringing a resolution. Maybe if the MDU were more proactive in resolution many cases wouldn't need to go to court" – Lesley Davies, Derby