£9 million over 12 months was the amount Coventry and Warwickshire NHS spent on medical negligence and personal injury compensation awards. Almost 25% of that total was paid to personal injury solicitors rather than the patients who instigated the claims.
The government hopes that by taking legal aid away from medical negligence claimants, these sort of bills will reduce. However, some legal experts believe the opposite will be true.
Sue Bent from the Coventry Law Centre says that vulnerable members of society will be discriminated against if legal aid is removed.
The bill, which intends to deduct legal fees from personal injury compensation payouts, is currently working its way through parliament. Baroness Grey-Thompson, the Paralympic gold medallist, has been trying to get the bill changed so that victims of medical negligence can still get legal aid. Her amendment was rejected by seven votes.
The NHS Litigation Authority settles medical negligence claims and it wants to see legal aid retained. In 2011, it paid out £3.6 million compensation to claimants from Stratford and Warwick Hospitals, plus £800,000 in legal fees.
At St Cross and University Hospital, the compensation bill was £2.8 million, with an additional £730,000 going towards legal fees. At George Eliot, the total bill was £850,000 and £350,000 of that was legal fees.
Legal costs actually worked out more than damages at the Coventry & Warwickshire Partnership Trust, where patients got £70,000 and lawyers £150,000.
By the sounds of it, it’s not legal aid that need the chop but the legal fees charged by the lawyers. How can a system where the patients get less compensation than the legal fees incurred possibly be justified?