Claims against the NHS are likely to rise this year as cases are pushed through ahead of funding reforms, according to the new head of the NHS Litigation Authority.
Catherine Dixon (pictured), a solicitor who joined as chief executive in April after a career including posts at Eversheds and Bupa, told the Gazette she expected a higher number of negligence claims before government changes to the conditional fee agreement (CFA) structure come into force next April. According to its annual report, published earlier this month, the authority last year dealt with a record 9,143 new claims and spent more than £1bn for the first time in its 16-year history.
Dixon said reforms will eventually reduce the disparity between claimant and defence costs, but only after a period when more claims have to be settled.
‘There seems to be a level of activity to get people signed up to the CFA - these will come through over the next couple of years. After that period we may see numbers falling,’ she said.
She rebutted claims that the authority is too quick to fight every claim, saying it was important to resist cases that could not be substantiated. ‘We interpret the law in a certain way and if we do end up in trial we’re generally successful.’
She said the latest figures give reason for optimism - the number of claims closed rose by 13% last year to 14,171 and the average duration of claims fell 25% to 3.54 years.
Dixon now wants to improve the authority’s communication with NHS trusts about learning lessons from past mistakes and sharing information. An incentive scheme for NHS trusts will reward those with fewer claims.
‘We look for a correlation between things that aren’t being done and a propensity to claim,’ she said. ‘We can financially encourage trusts as well and give them a discount on what they pay if they have a good claims history.
‘If they have a poor one, the cost may go up depending on the size of the trust and whether they can bear it financially.’
The authority is also reviewing its panel of 11 law firms which shared around £48m last year in defence costs. The current list features Browne Jacobson, Hempsons, Veitch Penny, DAC Beachcroft, Clyde & Co, Kennedys, Capsticks, Bevan Brittan, Weightmans, Ward Hadaway and Hill Dickinson.
A tender process will open later this year, with the new panel chosen by April.
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