30% rise in negligence claims against NHS
Clinical negligence claims against the National Health Service have increased by almost a third over the past year, with an extra £100million paid out to victims of medical blunders.
Nearly 9,000 patients claimed for damages after allegedly suffering at the hands of doctors or nurses, figures from the NHS Litigation Authority show. It paid out £863m to victims of accidents in hospitals and clinics, up from £787m the year before, after settling 5,398 cases.
But a quarter of this was spent on legal costs, with £200m going to claimants’ lawyers under the system whereby so-called “ambulance chasers” can charge up to £900 an hour to pursue claims.
The litigation authority’s annual report is scathing about the current regime, which it claims is driving the “rapid growth in claims numbers” rather than any increase in mistakes by NHS staff.
Under the “no-win, no-fee” system set up by Labour so poorer people could have access to justice, known as Conditional Fee Arrangements, claimants do not have to pay for lawyers upfront. But if they win cases, the lawyers can claim big “success fees” from the defendant.
Steve Walker, chief executive of the NHS Litigation Authority , said: “We believe very strongly that a regime which allows success fees and the recoverability of After the Event (ATE) insurance premiums makes litigation so profitable that solicitors and so-called ‘claims farmers’ are drawn into the market thereby fuelling the rise in claims volumes we have experienced.”
However he added that the body is “delighted” that the Ministry of Justice is acting on the Jackson review of civil litigation costs, which recommended that success fees and ATE premiums should not be recoverable in no-win, no-fee cases.
At the same time the Government hopes to save millions every year by scrapping Legal Aid in cases of alleged malpractice.
The litigation authority’s report shows that in total it recorded 12,142 claims against NHS trusts in 2010-11 but expects only 4 per cent to go to court, as most will either be settled beforehand or dropped. Of these, 8,655 were clinical claims, up from 6,652 the previous year, and 4,346 were non-clinical, up from 4,074. A further 22,364 claims were still open at the end of the financial year.
The authority – funded partly by trusts and partly by the Department of Health directly – paid out £729m under its main clinical scheme and a further £134m under claims relating to incidents that took place before 1995. This was an increase on £651m under the current scheme and £136m under the old schemes recorded in 2009-10. A further £47.9m was paid out in non-clinical cases.
However these figures do not only include compensation paid to patients, staff and members of the public but legal costs as well.
“The costs claimed by claimant lawyers continue to be significantly higher than those incurred on our behalf by our panel defence solicitors. This continues to be a major concern.
“The availability of Conditional Fee Agreements (CFAs) and the continued increase in their use by claimants in clinical negligence claims has also meant that claimants’ costs are almost invariably disproportionate, often significantly, to the amount of damages paid, particularly in low-value claims.
“In the 5,398 clinical negligence claims closed by us with a damages payment in 2010/11, we paid over £257m in total legal costs, of which almost £200m (76 per cent of the total costs expenditure) was paid to claimant lawyers.”
Something that “multiculturalism” has done for Britain
Shaking hands in celebration on a bus, thugs who had just hunted down a schoolboy, 16, like a pack of animals and stabbed him to death
I wonder what they all have in common?
Leaning across the bus seat, these teenage killers shake hands in a sickening moment of self-congratulation. One is heard to say to another: ‘You’re the new young boss.’
Just half an hour earlier they had been among a vicious gang who hunted down a schoolboy ‘like a pack of wild dogs’ before knifing him to death.
The gang are now behind bars. They were jailed for a total of 74 years yesterday over the killing in broad daylight in a busy shopping street of 16-year-old Nicholas Pearton.
The teenager was pursued across a suburban park by his attackers, many of whom were still in their school uniform, before he was stabbed through the heart and collapsed in a shop doorway in front of his mother, Kim.
As the gang fled, they waved their knives in the air and shouted the name of the gang ‘triumphantly’.
Another member Joseph Appiah, then 15, carried out a head count to make sure none of the gang – known as Shanks and Guns (shanks being slang for knives) – had been arrested after the attack in Sydenham, South London, in May last year. Other gang members had abandoned an armoury of weapons including knives and wooden poles in the park.
Lamarr Gordon was sentenced to a minimum of 15 years for his role
Dale Green was identified as the person who did the stabbing
The Old Bailey heard that Nicholas, who was training to be a carpenter, was ‘in the eyes of his attackers’ involved with a rival gang, the Sydenham Boys. It was a rivalry, the court was told, fuelled by a threatening video posted on YouTube.
Yesterday the victim’s father Vince Pearton, 43, and mother Kim Whoolley, told of how their family had been torn apart by the death of their son. Lucy Kennedy, prosecuting, read an emotionally-charged statement from the parents.
In it, Mr Pearton said his son’s murder had ‘broken the chain that bonds our family together and we will be forever incomplete. Our loss and accompanying feeling of emptiness is an all-consuming and inescapable daily torment for us’.
The gang were all from South London and aged between 15 and 17 at the time of the attack. They were unmasked yesterday as judge Anthony Morris lifted a ban on reporting their names.
Passing sentence, the judge said the gang was responsible for the ‘senseless and tragic loss of a young life’. ‘This case involved gratuitous violence in public places, which seriously discourages law-abiding citizens from walking the streets,’ he said. ‘The group was like a pack of wild dogs hunting down its prey. ‘This was a particularly cowardly attack, as all the defendants knew he was alone and unarmed.’
Green, 17, of Catford, Gordon, 17, of Bromley, and Appiah, 16, described as a talented athlete of Lewisham, had denied murder but were convicted. They were all sentenced to life with Green jailed for a minimum 15 years, Gordon 14 years and Appiah 12 years.
Four others, Terell Clement, 18, of Deptford, Claude Gaha, 17, of Bromley, Edward Conteh, of Peckham, and Demar Brown, 16, of Hither Green, were jailed for a total of 33 years after being convicted of manslaughter.
Rule change may allow British GPs to ask for divine help with patients and not risk disciplinary action
Family doctors could be allowed to pray with their patients without facing the threat of being suspended. The General Medical Council is to have another look at its rules which mean doctors can face disciplinary action for discussing their religion during appointments.
Earlier this year a Christian GP, Dr Richard Scott, was handed an official warning by the GMC for suggesting a young man under his care could find comfort in Jesus. The patient told his mother about the appointment, who complained to the GMC claiming the doctor had ‘pushed religion’ onto her son.
Dr Scott, from Margate, Kent, is fighting to have the warning removed from his unblemished record, insisting he acted professionally and within the guidelines.
Two years ago a nurse was suspended after offering to pray for an elderly patient during a home visit.
Several GPs, specialist doctors and nurses have since expressed concern that even simply mentioning the topic of religion with patients could lead to them being suspended.
Now the head of the GMC, Niall Dickson, has said he will look at the rules on praying. He told Pulse magazine that GPs should be able to pray or discuss religion as long as the patient was comfortable or ‘receptive’. But he stressed that patients do not go and see their doctor to be ‘converted’ to Christianity or any other faith and that a doctor’s prime responsibility was treatment.
He said, however, that should a patient want to discuss religion or pray with their doctor they should be able to do so regardless if a family member later took offence. He added: ‘The fact the person drawing it to our attention is a relative, friend, or another professional is not important. What is important is what actually happened, what is the evidence behind the complaint and the doctor’s explanation?
‘How does the patient and their relatives view the situation? What are they each bringing to the GMC in terms of evidence for us to consider? ‘Clearly the patient themselves will have a direct experience to tell and therefore will provide stronger evidence than somebody who wasn’t there.’
In 2009 nurse Caroline Petrie was suspended by North Somerset NHS Trust for offering to pray for an elderly patient during a home visit. She has been allowed back to work on the grounds that she offers to pray for patients only after she has asked them if they have any ‘spiritual needs’.
70 per cent of Britons think there are too many migrants in the country
Seven out of 10 Britons think there are too many migrants in the country and only a quarter think immigration is good for the economy.
A survey of 23 countries by pollsters Ipsos Mori, will fuel the row over David Cameron’s pledge to cut non-EU immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Three quarters said migrants put too much strain on public services and 62 per cent said they made it harder for Britons to find work.
Russians showed the greatest opposition to immigrants with 77 per cent saying their country had too many, while Britain was in line with Belgium, Italy, Spain and South Africa.
The Japanese were happiest, with just 15 per cent wanting fewer. Brazilians were the most positive, with half saying immigrants make their country more interesting.
A spokesman for Ipsos Mori said: “Clearly people in Britain are concerned how immigration is affecting their job opportunities, the strain on public services and impact on a sluggish economy. These concerns are also reflected in many countries around the world.”
Elite ISN’T a dirty word as Eton headmaster says it’s time to reclaim tarnished term and celebrate success
Society should not be ashamed of elitism, the headmaster of Eton College has insisted. Tony Little believes the term should be ‘reclaimed’ because striving for excellence is vital for success in all walks of life.
He says that elitism has become mistakenly confused with ‘social exclusion’. The headmaster of Britain’s most exclusive school, where fees are £30,981 a year, agreed that Eton was ‘elite’.
He added: ‘But what we need to do is reclaim the word elite. ‘We live in a very strange society where it is possible to talk with impunity about elitism in football, but not in medicine or plumbing or other aspects of life. I would like the plumber I engage to be an elite plumber, and I want to see an elite doctor – it’s to do with excellence. ‘And we are unashamed that excellence is at the heart of what we do. The word has become muddied of course by the notion of social exclusion and that is an important issue.’
His comments come amid concerns that mediocrity has been institutionalised in state schools by encouraging teachers to neglect the brightest pupils, alongside a ‘prizes-for-all’ culture. A recent report by the Policy Exchange think-tank revealed that teachers focused on bumping up pupils from a grade D to a C, rather than those in other grade divides, to improve their rankings in school league tables. And in Key Stage Two results released this week, the number of 11-year-olds exceeding the standard for their age group fell in English, with a dramatic slump in reading prowess.
Mr Little, interviewed for magazine publisher Archant Life London, rejected claims that Eton is restricted to the wealthy and privileged. He said: ‘Eton is more of a mixed clientele than most people would appreciate. For example, 20 per cent of our boys come here with significant financial help, so there is a wider range of backgrounds than I expect people would be prepared to accept or understand.’
Financial help at the school in Berkshire, where most of the 1,300 students enter at age 13, comes in the form of scholarships and means-tested bursaries which can be up to 100 per cent of the fee.
Mr Little said: ‘It’s not just the people who can’t afford anything. ‘It’s the people who used to be able to afford it who now can’t. We are talking about swathes of Middle England – the GP, the country solicitor – who would now find it nigh impossible, unaided, to match the fees of a place like Eton.’
Mr Little wants Eton to have ‘needs blind’ admission in future, which would further widen access to less well-off families. A handful of independent schools currently aim to fund enough bursaries to achieve this, among them St Paul’s School in South-West London.
However only the wealthiest institutions, with wide networks of former pupils in highly-paid jobs, have a realistic chance of raising the millions to fund bursaries for any pupil who needs them.
The Eton admissions process involves testing students’ skills and abilities, evaluation of a report from the pupil’s current school and a face-to-face interview. Five assessors with no knowledge of family financial circumstances then decide who will be offered a place.
Mr Little said: ‘We are ‘‘needs blind’’ in the sense that we look at boys purely in terms of their calibre as candidates to come to Eton. ‘But we are only ‘‘needs blind’’ up to the limits of our bursary pot. That’s what we are working on, to try to build up more money.’
More universities to be created under British government plan
Specialist colleges with just 1,000 students will be allowed to call themselves universities for the first time under Government reforms being published today.
More than a dozen small-scale institutions – often specialising in media, the arts, education or agriculture – could win the right to full university status as soon as next year, it is revealed.
Currently, higher education colleges must attract at least 4,000 full-time students – at least 3,000 of whom must take degree courses – before winning the prestigious title. But the Coalition is proposing to slash the minimum threshold to just 1,000.
Ministers claim the move will improve the status of many small-scale colleges that can already award degrees to undergraduates.
It is likely to herald the biggest expansion of universities since more than 60 former polytechnics and higher education colleges were awarded the title by the Conservatives in the early 90s.
The reforms come as part of wider proposals to create more competition and diversity in English higher education. It follows the publication of alternative plans to grant full degree-awarding powers to private colleges and give students greater access to subsidised grants and loans to take part-time courses.
But the move is likely to anger traditionalists who fear a further expansion in the number of full universities risks devaluing the status of the higher education system and making it even harder for employers to differentiate between institutions.
Prof Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said universities should be required to teach a range of courses. “What worries me slightly about some of these higher education colleges is that they are very highly specialised,” he said. “An important criteria for me is whether the spread of the courses offered is what you would expect from a university. “It is an essential part of the university experience to learn one subject but interact with a wide variety of students specialising in a number of different fields.”
But David Willetts, the Universities Minister, told the Telegraph: “I want to see a more diverse higher education sector without in any way sacrificing higher education standards.”
Ministers will set out proposals in a consultation document being published today to introduce “wider access to [the] university title for smaller institutions”.
Under plans, higher education colleges with 1,000 full-time students – at least 750 of whom are studying for a degree – would be able to apply for the university title.
Those able to qualify include institutions such as Norwich University College of the Arts and University College Falmouth, which specialise in art, design and media courses, and Bishop Grosseteste University College, which specialises in education and teacher training. Others include agricultural and veterinary science colleges such as Harper Adams and the Royal Agricultural College.
In all, it is believed the title could be extended to around 14 institutions. Those eligible for the change already have degree awarding powers and carry out Government-funded research.
Prof Peter Lutzeier, principal of Newman University College, Birmingham, a Catholic institution specialising in a range of academic subjects, welcomed the change. “While we operate in the same way as universities – conferring our own degrees comparable in quality to those from full universities – we are currently prevented from using the universally-understood term of ‘university’ due to size alone,” he said.
“This creates a real perception challenge that means smaller higher education institutions have to spend additional time and resources educating students and employers about the nature and quality of their institution, as well as finding it more difficult to develop international links due to a perceived ‘lack’ of full university status.
“This state of affairs is not only confusing for the public but is also something of an anachronism given that many of our most prestigious full universities actually operate on a smaller, collegiate system. “The collegiate approach is widely praised for allowing students to benefit from high levels of one-to-one tuition and support so why should newer institutions effectively be penalised for following a similar model?”