Jeremy Hunt has floated the idea of a ‘rapid resolution’ compensation scheme for clinical negligence cases in maternity care to end ‘blame culture’ and bypass the courts. The health secretary yesterday announced a safer maternity care action plan to improve the safety of maternity care in the NHS including plans to crackdown on ‘the litigation culture’.
‘Our NHS maternity staff do a fantastic job under huge pressure,’ commented Jeremy Hunt. ‘But even though we have made much progress, our stillbirth rates are still amongst the highest in Western Europe and many on the frontline say there is still too much of a blame culture when things go wrong – often caused by fear of litigation or worry about damage to reputation and careers.’
There will be a consultation on a new ‘rapid resolution and redress’ (RRR) scheme. According to the Department of Health, the RRR scheme ‘could investigate and learn lessons from more than 500 incidents a year’. ‘In cases where harm was avoidable this would offer timely access to financial support without the current obligation on families to launch a formal legal process. At present, the average time families have to wait for resolution of a case is 11 and a half years.’
Eligible families could opt into the scheme which would offer support ‘without the need to bring a claim through the courts’. Families would receive help including ‘counselling, case management and legal advice’. ‘A similar scheme operating in Sweden has reduced serious avoidable birth injuries by around 50% in the last six to seven years,’ the DoH said.
Action for Victims of Medical Accidents welcomed ‘the principle of compensating people more quickly without the stress and cost of litigation’. But chief executive Peter Walsh added ‘a big health warning’. ‘It is essential that any scheme compensates people fairly according to their individual needs rather than short changing them in return for a “quick” settlement. The people investigating and making decisions about these cases need to be totally independent, and the families themselves need to be empowered in the process through the provision of specialist independent support and legal advice.’
‘We are yet to see any real detail about how the proposed scheme will work. We do not want people to feel pressurised into accepting something less than they need and deserve just to save the NHS money. The main emphasis should be on prevention.’
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