New curbs on legal fees which cost NHS £259m on top of compo pay-outs

By DAVID WOODING

FAT cat lawyers are to be banned from cashing in on NHS blunders by charging sky-high legal fees.

Ministers aim to save £80 million a year by halting rip-off legal bills hospitals are forced to pay on top of compo for botched operations.

More than £2.50 in every tenner paid out goes straight to lawyers – who sometimes pocket more than the negligence victims.

One legal firm slapped in an £80,000 bill for representing a patient who received just £1,000.

In another case, a solicitor charged the NHS £175,000 after helping a patient to win only £11,800.

But new rules being drawn up by the government will end the “excessive” and “extortionate” practice by capping how much lawyers can demand handling low-cost claims.

They will in future only be able to charge a fixed percentage of the damages  of up to £100,000 won by a patient.

The predicted savings will be enough to pay for 1,870 extra nurses, 14,000 hip or knee replacements or 112,000 cataract ops.

Health minister Ben Gummer said: “Safe, compassionate care is my utmost priority and to achieve this, the NHS must make sure every penny counts.

“Unscrupulously, some lawyers have used patient claims to load grossly excessive costs on to the NHS and charge far more than the patient receives in compensation.

“Our one nation approach is about being on the side of hard-working taxpayers and these financial controls will ensure money is pumped back into patient care.”

Last year the NHS paid out £1.2billion in clinical negligence claims, of which £259 million was paid to patients’ lawyers.

Many firms work on a “no win, no fee” basis raising fears that “claims farmers” are encouraging more patients to sue.

Mr Gummer vowed that any savings from the new cap would go straight back into frontline NHS care, along with the £2billion budget increase for this year.

Emma Hallinan, of the  Medical Protection Society, said: “It’s great that the government is tackling this important issue. A new approach is desperately needed.

“We have been calling for a fixed cost regime to help address the rising cost of clinical negligence and it is fantastic to see that the government plans to cap excessive legal fees that are placing such a burden on the public purse.”

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