Is the NHS facing a bill of £15.7 billion for clinical negligence?

7 February 2012

"The NHS faces a £15.7 billion bill to settle a rising number of clinical negligence claims"

Daily Telegraph, 7 February 2012

"An avalanche of claims against doctors has left the Health Service with a £15.7 billion bill"

Daily Mail, 7 February 2012

The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail have both reported today that the NHS is facing a bill of £15.7 billion in order to deal with clinical negligence claims. In particular, the newspapers highlight the ongoing rise in clinical negligence cases and the impact of "no-win no-fee" arrangements with solicitors who encourage patients to bring cases against the NHS.

Full Fact looked into the costs.


The figure of £15.7 billion originates from the Whole of Government Accounts (WGA), released in November 2011. The WGA aims to provide an overview of how government money is being spent, consolidating audited information from all departments.

Today, the Public Accounts Committee published its report on the WGA, which highlights the extent to which the NHS is liable for clinical negligence claims.

According to the WGA report, the figure:

"represented the likely value of future claims payments. This calculation is based upon the discounted gross value of all claims received together with an actuarial calculation to estimate the value of incidents which have occurred but not yet been reported."

The Daily Mail goes further, claiming that "Officials admit it could be an underestimate because, if more court cases than expected go against the NHS, the full cost could exceed £23billion".

The Mail appears to be basing this claim on the WGA figures for current liabilities (£15.7 billion) and the 'contingent liabilities' of the Department of Health (£7.5 billion) for clinical negligence, defined as where:

"The Department of Health is the actual or potential defendant in several actions regarding alleged clinical negligence. In some cases, costs have been provided for or otherwise charged to the accounts. In other cases, there is large degree of uncertainty as to the Department's liability and to the amounts involved."

The contingent liabilities are dependent on the outcome of the cases and various other factors and, assuming there is no overlap, suggest that the total liabilities for clinical negligence could amount to a maximum of £23.2 billion.

In addition, data on the number of claims is published by the NHS Litigation Authority, and is referred to in questions by the Public Accounts Committee, who point out that "new claims over the past year have gone up by 31%".

This figure is confirmed by the Litigation Authority, whose statistics show that there was a 31.6 per cent rise in claims on 2009/2010. The Public Accounts Committee notes that the increase "is in part because it has brought some claims forward".


One of the criticisms levelled at the WGA by the Public Accounts Committee was that it was released 20 months after the period it covers, and was therefore "too dated".

Subsequently, the true amount that the NHS is liable for is likely to have changed. Nevertheless, the figure of £15.7 billion quoted by the papers is accurate as far as the Treasury estimates provide.

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