NHS negligence bills are set to double in less than five years, according to a new report by the National Audit Office.

According to the NAO, the cost of clinical negligence claims is rising at a faster rate year-on-year than NHS funding, adding to the financial pressures already faced by many trusts, which can have an impact on patients’ access to services and quality of care. Over the last ten years spending on the Clinical Negligence Scheme for Trusts has quadrupled from £0.4 billion in 2006-07 to £1.6 billion in 2016-17, while the number of successful clinical negligence claims where damages were awarded has more than doubled from 2,800 to 7,300.

Claimants legal costs have also risen by 533 percent over the same period, thanks in part to the rise in no-win-no-fee agreements. Meanwhile, there has been 350 percent rise in spending on maternity negligence damages, and over the past six years the average time spent disputing claims has risen from 300 days to 426 days.

The report concludes: "The government lacks a coherent cross-government strategy, underpinned by policy, to support measures to tackle the rising cost of clinical negligence. The Department and NHS Resolution, working with others including the Ministry of Justice, have identified many of the factors contributing to the rising costs of clinical negligence. But some of the biggest factors influencing costs fall within the remit of more than one government department or are largely outside the health system’s control. They include developments in the legal market and the increasing level of damages awarded for high-value claims."

Responding to the report, Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said:“We cannot go on like this with the NHS spending more and more on litigation. We share the NAO’s concern that the Government lacks a coherent strategy to support measures to tackle these rising costs.

“The NAO finds that there is no evidence of poorer patient safety. Earlier this year we pointed out that we now have fewer claims but are paying more to claimant’s lawyers in legal fees. We do accept that there are too many mistakes and that more needs to be done to learn lessons when things go wrong. The Getting It Right First Time programme will certainly help with that. But this rising tide of litigation is draining the NHS of resources and must be urgently addressed.

“And indeed this has actually been made worse following the decision by the last Lord Chancellor to change the way compensation claims are calculated which is about to make the costs even higher. The Office for Budget Responsibility has estimated that this decision alone will cost the public sector an extra £1.2bn a year. It seems madness that we are now paying out sums greater than almost any other country in the world, when we have a universal, government funded system of healthcare.”