Victims of the rogue breast surgeon Ian Paterson would be denied justice under a new scheme to limit claims against the NHS for botched operations, patient safety groups have warned.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, a coalition of ten charities say the scheme to cap legal costs payable to lawyers in almost two thirds of medical negligence cases would bar the most vulnerable from compensation.
The warning comes days after the 59-year-old consultant, who victims accused of having a “God complex”, was found guilty of needlessly mutilating 10 women in private hospitals.
Some of the most vulnerable people harmed by clinical negligence would not be able to achieve justice
Letter to The Telegraph
Patients said their lives have been “ruined” by constant pain as a result of Paterson’s unnecessary procedures.
NHS bosses have already paid out £9.5 million in damages settling cases brought by more than 250 NHS patients, but lawyers estimate there may be many hundred more victims eligible for compensation.
If the cap become law before they begin legal action, they could be denied damages.
Under the proposed new rules, claims against the health service of up to £25,000 will come with strict caps on the fees lawyers can claim for handling them.
“Some of the most vulnerable people harmed by clinical negligence would not be able to achieve justice, because they would not be able to find solicitors to represent them,” the patient groups write.
“Even if they did, they would lose a significant amount of their damages in legal costs that would be left to them to pay.”
The Department of Health argues that legal fees in negligence cases are spiraling out of control and that in claims for compensation under £25,000 they come to more than three times the value of the damages awarded.
But Action against Medical Accidents, the patient safety group leading the campaign against the cap, says this approach wrongly assumes that lower value claims cannot also be among the most serious.
Peter Walsh, its Chief Executive, told the Daily Telegraph: “In cases of child death or the death of elderly people, the value of the claim may not be that much because it’s hard to claim for loss of earnings, but it is still the most incredibly serious matter which needs proper legal expertise.”
He said that cases such as a number that helped exposed the scandal at Mid Staffs hospital could not have happened under the cap.
“Cases like those involving Dr Ian Paterson and those at Mid Staffordshire may never come to light,” the letter reads.
“Older people’s cases, stillbirths, any fatal cases, and cases of people lacking mental capacity would be likely to be the worst affected.”
The letter also argues that the NHS would lose the opportunity to learn lessons and improve safety by limiting the number of cases brought against it.
As Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt has said repeatedly he wants to make the NHS the safest health service in the world.
Mr Walsh added that mental health patients who are victims of negligence, such as those at Southern Health, where a vulnerable teenager drowned in a bath, would struggle to get justice under the cap.
A Government consultation on the scheme, which closes today (Tuesday), says it is considering exempting child deaths from the fixed costs regime.
The Society of Clinical Injury Lawyers said the proposals would make representing clients claiming less than £25,000 commercially unviable, and drive them “into the arms of an exploding army of claims management companies”, such as those who tout for Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) compensation.
James O’Shaughnessy, the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Health who was leading the reform, has said: “It is right that the Government should endeavour to reduce the cost of litigation so that more resources are available for NHS patient care.”