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Health leaders have written to Justice Secretary David Gauke urging him to reform the payout system for negligence claims against the NHS in England.

They say costs are spiralling, “unsustainable” and diverting vast amounts from frontline care.

The NHS Confederation, the British Medical Association and medical lawyers are among the signatories.

The Ministry of Justice has asked the advisory body the Civil Justice Council to look at ways to limit payments.

The annual cost of claims is said to have almost doubled since 2010.

According to the letter, the NHS in England spent £1.7bn on clinical negligence claims last year.

The letter says: “The rising cost of clinical negligence is unsustainable and means that vast amounts of resource which could be used more effectively have to be diverted elsewhere.

“We fully accept that there must be reasonable compensation for patients harmed through clinical negligence, but this needs to be balanced against society’s ability to pay.

“This is money that could be spent on frontline care. Given the wider pressures on the healthcare system, the rising cost of clinical negligence is already having an impact on what the NHS can provide.”

‘Stretched system’

The letter – coordinated by the NHS Confederation – has also been signed by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, Family Doctors Association, Medical Protection Society, Medical Defence Union and the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland.

It says reforms by the government to the claims system have made things worse.

The calculation used to work out how much a victim of negligence should receive upfront to cover a lifetime of care was changed last year so the NHS had to make higher lump sum payments.

The letter says total liabilities over future years if all claims in England arising from past incidents are successful would amount to a “staggering” £65bn.

The Ministry of Justice said it had set out proposals for a “fairer way” of setting payout levels.

A spokesperson said: “All personal injury victims should of course be fully compensated, but the costs involved should also be proportionate.”

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