Doctors :: New act could give rise to more complaints against doctors

The NHS Redress Act should make clinical negligence cases simpler and less costly, but it may create more, not fewer, complaints warn experts in this week?s BMJ.

The current system for patients to obtain compensation after medical error has been much criticised by the government, writes barristers Richard Furniss and Sarah Ormond-Walshe. It is seen as complex, slow, and costly, both in terms of legal fees and staff time. Patients are said to be dissatisfied with the lack of explanation and apologies, and the system is believed to encourage defensiveness and secrecy in the health service.

The new NHS redress scheme aims to improve on the present system.

The scheme will apply to hospital care in England and Wales and will allow negligence claims to be made without court involvement. Redress may include an apology, explanation, or compensation up to ?20,000. The scheme is therefore likely to be more useful to, and used by, those who have no grounds for monetary compensation because they have suffered no financial loss.

The scheme will fill a gap in the current system, but there are some concerns, say the authors.

For example, it may be seen as less impartial because NHS trusts will carry out the investigations. It may also create more cases because claims for small amounts of compensation or an apology are not currently included in the present system.

As a result, overall costs could rise because more clinicians will be diverted from their duty as part of the investigations, argue the authors.

Currently the scheme seems likely to give rise to more complaints and the way in which it deals with them may be less satisfactory than at present, they conclude.

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