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New Challenges as Medical Malpractice Claims Rise in the UK

Medical malpractice claims in the United Kingdom used to be fairly uncommon, but according to a recent analysis, they doubled during the decade spanning 2007 to 2018. As a result, many factions are calling for reforms to limit lawsuits and recoveries. Some of these arguments are similar to ones in the U.S., but in the UK, there is added pressure. The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) employs virtually all the doctors and owns practically all hospitals except for a few private facilities. In addition, the government covers malpractice premiums for all of their employed physicians, so taxpayers are the ones paying for increasing insurance rates and damages.

The rise in medical malpractice lawsuits in the UK is attributed to various causes. Since 1998, solicitors (attorneys) have been allowed to take medical malpractice cases on a contingency basis in which they are only paid if they win. Frivolous lawsuits were discouraged by requiring the losing party to pay the winner’s legal costs. While this generally discouraged meritless claims, claimants (plaintiffs) now routinely purchase “after-the-event insurance” to cover the legal costs in the event that the defendant wins. This reduces the risk of economic loss which in turn encourages the filing of more claims. In addition, there was a change in the discount rate which UK courts use to calculate future damages for the claimant, including medical care and loss of the ability to work. This also benefits claimants.

Patients are also better informed than in the past. Just as in the U.S., patients can seek information about their condition and treatment and feel more confident about challenging doctors. In the UK, there are also concerns that patient wait times for treatment may damage patient loyalty to doctors. In the U.S., prior studies have shown that hospital facilities with a higher number of satisfied patients tend to also have lower malpractice claim frequency, which supports the conclusion that there is a human element underlying many claims. As a result, patients who are unhappy about waiting for care may be more likely to sue.

Notably, many of the UK trends mirror the U.S. For instance, in the UK maternity cases make up about half of all payouts and surgical malpractice generates the highest awards. Similarly, in the U.S., general surgery is the number one specialty involved in malpractice claims with obstetrics in third place. Consequently, medical malpractice claims in the UK have doubled as have the size of payouts. Legal fees have also increased significantly. In the U.S., the 20th Aon/ ASHRM Hospital and Physician Professional Liability Benchmark Analysis found that while the number of claims is projected to remain steady, claim severity, including defense costs, are projected to increase 2 percent annually.

As in the U.S., medical and surgical expert witnesses (General Practitioners and Consultants) are essential for medical malpractice claims in the UK. They provide invaluable testimony regarding the appropriate standard of medical care, causation and damages. The breadth of experience of medical practitioners in the U.S. mean that they are frequently called upon to provide expert testimony outside the U.S. Elite Medical Experts provides completely customized expert searches to identify and secure university healthcare experts for all types of medical litigation and complex consulting matters. We screen experts based upon case-specific expertise, credentials, testimony experience, availability, and any other case preference including their eagerness to serve as an expert witness in international litigation. Contact us today for a consultation.

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