Amendment 67

Medicines and Medical Devices Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 14th January 2021.

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath:

Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

67: After Clause 40, insert the following new Clause—“Medicines and Medical Devices Redress AgencyThe Secretary of State must, by the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, bring proposals before Parliament to establish a Redress Agency for those harmed by medicines and medical devices.”

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour

My Lords, I want to come back to the debate on clinical negligence and the recommendation made by the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, in her report for a redress agency. I declare my interest as a member of the GMC board.

We have reached a very serious position, with an exponential rise in clinical negligence costs. Twenty years ago, contingent liability was £3.9 billion; it is now £83 billion. Even allowing for inflation, I hardly think that we have become 20 times more negligent over that period. Indeed, the Minister, Nadine Dorries, told the House of Commons in a Written Answer last November:

“The continued rises in clinical negligence costs are eating into resources available for front-line care”.

It is not delivering for patients and their families, either. There are huge delays in getting cases settled and huge lawyers’ fees, in a quite remarkable situation where the NHS ends up paying damages in 80% of litigated clinical negligence claims. There is something wrong in the way we deal with these cases.

There have been endless reviews over the past 20 years, but precious little has happened. Seventeen years ago, an NHS redress scheme was unveiled by the then Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson. Legislation followed in 2006 but, 14 years later, it has yet to be implemented—and I doubt it ever will be. Since then, there has been much debate about the sustainability of Section 2(4) of the 1948 Law Reform (Personal Injuries) Act, which essentially promotes increased costs because it provides that

“there shall be disregarded, in determining the reasonableness of any expenses, the possibility of avoiding those expenses or part of them by taking advantage of facilities available under” the NHS. In other words, the NHS tends to pay twice.

In 2017, the department and the Ministry of Justice commissioned the independent Civil Justice Council to draw up a new claims handling process for clinical negligence claims of up to £25,000, together with proposals for fixed recoverable costs for these cases. The report was published, with recommendations, in October 2019. Since then, there has been silence.

In that context, the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, argued in her report First Do No Harm for a redress agency to be set up on an avoidable harm basis, which looks to systematic failings rather than blaming individuals. This, she thought, would encourage reporting and provide faster resolution for claimants. She argued that this

“would provide a standing structure to administer decisions using a non-adversarial process. This model is simple for patients to access as there is one point of contact. This structure enables flexibility to adapt and respond to situations as they arise.”

The proposed scheme of the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, is well intentioned and has popular appeal. I recognise that details need to be spelled out in relation to eligibility, qualifying criteria or conditions of entitlement for her proposed redress scheme. Of course, causality is at the heart of any consideration of patient safety remedy. Causation is at the heart of tort. The Vaccine Damage Payments Act 1979 is limited to persons disabled as a result of vaccination. Even the NHS Redress Act 2006, to which have just referred, is concerned with arrangements for redress in relation to liability in tort. The noble Baroness’s approach is of course quite different from that.

The noble Baroness the Minister in Committee was not enthusiastic. In the past 48 hours we have heard the Government’s response that they have,

“no current plans to establish a redress agency”, as set out in the recommendations of the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege. The reply went on to say:

“The government and industry have previously established redress schemes without the need for an additional agency.”

Well, that is a rather disappointing dismissal and misses the point, because the noble Baroness was essentially calling for a wholesale reform of the current clinical negligence system. I urge the Minister to reconsider this matter.

Can we really go on with the exponential rise in costs to the NHS—a system in which it loses 80% of cases that reach the courts, and where huge delays take place in patients getting access to an outcome? The system is completely bust. We need a new one and I hope that the Minister will, with his colleagues, consider what action needs to be taken to improve the current situation. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Cumberlege Baroness Cumberlege Conservative

My Lords, I warmly thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. His determination is awe-inspiring. I am so pleased that he has not left this issue mouldering on the Committee Floor but has picked it up again.

I understand what the noble Lord said about the Government not being enthusiastic. However, I have known other issues on which the Government have been less than enthusiastic. It is the way in which we put forward persuasive arguments—although setting up this agency will take a lot of work, with a lot of detail to be considered. However, other schemes have been successful. I think about the one in my area—thalidomide. That trust is still running and getting redress for people who need it. So I strongly support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt.

In our review, we tried to achieve a very simple and accessible structure for patients through the proposed redress agency. In an update on our recommendations, the Minister in the House of Commons, Nadine Dorries, said that the Department of Health and Social Care had delivered ex-gratia payments with individual schemes without the need for a redress agency. Indeed it has.

There are four or five schemes for infected blood alone, with eligibility based on whether the patient was a haemophiliac with HIV; a haemophiliac with hepatitis C; a non-haemophiliac with HIV; or a non-haemophiliac with hepatitis C. These different schemes addressed what type of payment should be awarded according to the patient’s need. What we—I am talking about my team and I—were advocating is a single point of contact for avoidably harmed patients. We felt very strongly that they had suffered enough without the necessity of finding out how to access the schemes that are relevant to them. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has said that something is wrong. He is right: it is wrong. This is not the way to help people who have been seriously harmed.

The problem is that, without a redress agency, each ex gratia scheme starts from scratch, which we felt was grossly inefficient. We need a standing administrative structure, funded by contributions from manufacturers and the state—both have a responsibility. At the moment, litigation is the only route, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has said, for injured people to get serious compensation. We know that the process is very damaging to people. They do not like going to court, they do not like having to put forward all the information that is absolutely necessary—and sometimes not so necessary—and they do not like the fact that it is an adversarial system. We felt that the redress agency could remove the need for adversarial litigation that focuses on blaming individual doctors and nurses. The agency would be non-adversarial and would look at the systems failings that led to avoidable harm. This would help develop an open culture in healthcare and facilitate learning—we are not good at that. We know that the same mistakes happen over and again, and we felt that this was another tool to ensure that there would be much less of that.

Gathering information in one place—the agency—would make it so much easier to learn from the data that is collected and would strengthen the ability of the healthcare system to learn from the mistakes made. We have only to look at the cost of litigation of some £83 billion a year—I was very interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said. We know that, often, the majority of those costs go to the law firms, not the individuals who have suffered so grievously. We felt that it would be much better if those huge sums of money, which are much needed by the NHS, should be used with a redress agency, which would have other advantages, as I have just outlined. A stand-alone agency, with a single entry point, would be a much better and more cost-effective way to award redress to those who suffer such avoidable harm—and many of them suffer for decades.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, it is again my great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. I am pleased to attach my name to Amendment 67 in the name of the noble Lord.

I do not think the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, will mind if I explain why I am coming in on Amendments 67 and 68 in particular. It is because I was in a meeting and asked her what her next priority would be after the broad achievement of the patient safety commissioner. She said that the redress agency was in her mind as the next priority, which is why I have chosen to make it a priority in this Bill, in which I have become considerably more involved than I was originally expecting.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, did, I have to describe the Government’s response to the noble Baroness’s review as very disappointing. Simply very curtly saying:

“The Government and industry have previously established redress schemes without the need for an additional agency” really does not engage with the arguments put by the noble Baroness in her report or reflect the strong support seen in the British Medical Journal editorial on 20 August, which expressed growing support for the entire review but particularly for the idea of a redress agency.

It is worth setting out some of the context for this. On one level, in an ideal society a redress agency would not be necessary, or certainly not needed as urgently as it is now. Anyone suffering from illness or disability, whatever the cause, should be supported, given the resources that they need to live a full life as healthily as possible and given the chance to make a full contribution to society to the absolute top of their human potential. In such a society—with a universal basic income, adequate funding for health and social care, full access to public transport and access in every building—perhaps we would not need a redress agency in the same way as we do now. There would still be an argument for compensation for avoidable suffering but not, as we are seeing in the case of children who suffer avoidable injury at birth, the need for many millions of pounds to be paid to cover the costs of support through life. However, I hardly need to add, that is not the world that we live in now.

To quote the noble Baroness’s report:

“We have heard from individuals who have described how they have struggled to access the benefits that they are entitled to … Benefits assessments are not straightforward and can be daunting and hugely stressful for individuals with complex issues.”

One thing that a redress agency might include in the current environment is support to help people to access the benefits that they need for their particular set of circumstances.

As the noble Baroness has said, although I shall put it more strongly than she did, families and patients do not like going to court. I would say that we all know that going to court is immensely stressful, difficult and—I hope the noble and learned Lords in your Lordships’ House will forgive me for saying this—sometimes something of a lottery. The result depends on the evidence presented on the day, in the moment, and very often on the quality of the legal representation available to people.

The noble Baroness’s report said that

“litigation has not proved useful to the majority of the affected individuals we have heard from.”

Again, while I am not aiming to set up a dispute with the noble and learned Lords in the House, there are conditions and circumstances in which a competitive contest is not the best way to achieve a just outcome in a dispute. That is something that has been accepted broadly by society when it comes to divorce. A reparation process is not a combative process but one that seeks to take the time necessary to consider the evidence, ask for clarification and arrive at the right level of compensation and payment. That is not without stress, but there is probably considerably less. Obviously, Windrush shows us that that is not a panacea, but it is certainly better than having to go to court.

I want to make another argument from a broad social perspective. Before I make it, I need to declare my position on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid. We have heavily overstretched courts around the land and heavily overstretched practitioners of legal aid, a service that is increasingly unavailable in many parts of the country. We have to ask why for medical errors we are putting extra weight on the courts when there is a better alternative approach.

I have one final thought. If I cannot win the Government over with arguments about justice—about the fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said, that the current system is “completely bust”—then surely there is an argument here for cost effectiveness. The cost of people having to go to court to get redress for medical errors, mistakes and faults is enormous. Surely the cost of a redress agency would be much less.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative 5:15 pm, 14th January 2021

My Lords, I am very glad to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and prior to her the movers of Amendment 67. I welcome the fact that we have this opportunity to say something about redress. Amendment 68 is to follow in the next group, and I think it important to distinguish between the need to establish a scheme of redress where the NHS or government have been responsible for something which subsequently turns out to have damaged or harmed people, and the need to establish a scheme to provide proper support to those who have been harmed. That has been done on an ex gratia basis but, if the Government sought to do so, I think it would be possible to commence the NHS Redress Act 2006 and to establish such redress schemes under a statutory footing. It is not necessary to pass legislation to make that happen.

Those are different and distinct from the process of recognising that those harmed as a result of clinical negligence or failures in treatment processes should be able to secure a remedy and redress. I say remedy advisedly because often, in my experience of talking to people who have been harmed as a result of clinical negligence—these are often cases involving harm to babies during birth—it is as important to understand what happened, to accept where responsibility lies and to understand that others will not suffer in the same way, as it is to secure redress, compensation and support, which is often support for the child throughout their life. We need to understand that that is what we are talking about, not just the question of compensation.

I am slightly surprised by Amendment 67. I wonder what we think NHS Resolution is, if not an agency within the NHS with responsibility for securing redress for those who have been harmed as a result of clinical negligence. We need to recognise the need for, and I hope the Minister will tell us that the Government have not abandoned thought of, further reform. Certainly, when we were in opposition, we argued during the passage of the NHS Redress Bill that there should be a fact-finding phase. We argued that, rather than having an adversarial process with expert witnesses and all the associated costs, we should have a phase during which a claim is brought and the facts are established on an independent basis. That could lead to arbitration procedures and a settlement, rather than court-based proceedings, and we might escape some of the burden of cost. We should remember that nearly half the total cost of compensation in the clinical negligence process through NHS Resolution is actually legal fees. If we can escape some of that through an independent fact-finding phase, an arbitration process and financial settlements which recognise the support that the NHS and taxpayers give to those who have been harmed and have enduring problems and disabilities as a result, we might escape some of the burden of cost.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said, the potential contingent liability—not on an annual basis, but in the future—has risen to £83 billion. It is an enormous sum. The amounts paid by way of premiums to NHS Resolution are a significant aspect of the cost of NHS providers. There continues to be a good argument that the Government should consider this area still in need of reform.

Photo of Baroness Jolly Baroness Jolly Liberal Democrat

This amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, supported by the noble Baronesses, Lady Cumberlege and Lady Bennett, would require the Secretary of State to introduce proposals for a redress agency for those harmed by medicines and medical devices. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said, the concept of a redress agency for those harmed in such a manner has been around for many years but has not been realised. However, in the light of the Cumberlege report, which has been a great catalyst for innovation, the Government must see that now is the time. This is a really practical and common-sense move that would provide support and relief for patients while also avoiding the need for costly litigation on both sides, saving the NHS a considerable amount of money which could be better spent.

The NHS has a duty to give proper support to those in its care who have been harmed. As the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said, there needs to be independent fact-finding, leading to a resolution process. He cited the NHS Redress Act 2006. I ask the Minister to reflect on this debate and to speak to his right honourable friend the Secretary of State, perhaps using his charm to persuade him to think again.

One advantage of being at home for this debate, in front of your own computer in your own study, is the opportunity quickly to look online to see how easy it is to find the relevant website. It took me a couple of searches before I came up with NHS Resolution, but it was not hugely helpful or intuitive. Therefore, would the Minister also feed that back to the Secretary of State and the people who manage these schemes?

Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, raises matters in Amendment 67 that he raised in Grand Committee. I completely recognise that they are of enormous concern right across the House. One could say that it is the £83 billion question. I know he is an advocate, as indeed are many noble Lords, of the conclusions of the Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review, led by my noble friend Lady Cumberlege, and I commend him and other former Health Ministers in this place.

In Committee, we had a very helpful, substantial and informative discussion on the concept and merits of a redress agency. I know that the noble Lord indicated that he would return to these matters if it seemed likely that we were unable to give an update on the way in which the department is responding to the review. I understand that he seeks further assurances and I shall attempt to give them.

As I set out in Committee, we are determined to ensure the safety of medicines and devices so that harm is less likely to happen in the first place, and, when things do go wrong, we are committed to fair redress arrangements that work for all. However, for the reasons that I set out in Committee, we do not believe it is necessary to create a new body for the purpose of providing redress for medicines and devices.

First, routes already exist if patients believe they were harmed by medicines or medical devices. They can bring a legal claim in the courts either against the manufacturer on the basis of product liability or against the actions of an NHS provider or clinician.

Secondly, the Government and manufacturers already have the ability to set up redress schemes when necessary, and in fact they have done so already, where appropriate, without ever establishing an additional agency. Setting up an overarching redress agency could become an unnecessary addition to an already complex landscape.

Thirdly, we do not believe that a redress agency in this country would necessarily make products safer or drive the right incentives for industries which are usually directed from a global level. It is a fact of life that any extra costs to firms could impact the attractiveness of the UK as a place to market and manufacture products —something that we are committed to supporting.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, asked what, in the absence of wholesale changes, we are doing to improve things. Since its strategy, Delivering Fair Resolution and Learning From Harm, was launched in 2017, NHS Resolution has successfully reduced the number of cases going to litigation. In its 2019-20 accounts, it reported that 71% of claims are now resolved without court hearings, which is extremely encouraging.

This has been accompanied by a significant increase in the use of ADR—alternative dispute resolution, referred to by my noble friend Lord Lansley—with over 1,000 mediations undertaken by 31 March 2020, with a success rate of around 80%. This is again encouraging. As a result of the strategies employed on ADR and early resolution, overall time to resolution of cases had reduced since the NAO report by an average of 26 days. The new early notification scheme for obstetric cerebral palsy has ensured that many early admissions of liability and interim payments can be made to families within months. In answer to my noble friend Lord Lansley, we keep the whole arrangement under review and assess options all the time.

None of this is to say that redress reform is not important. I reassure the House that we continue to explore recommendation 4 on redress schemes for sodium valproate, mesh and HPTs, and further work is being carried out to allow a response to that recommendation. I hope my noble friend Lady Cumberlege takes some reassurance from that.

However, for the reasons set out, and as announced yesterday in the Written Ministerial Statement on the review, we currently have no plans to establish a redress agency. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, is aware, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, might like to remember, the Government will respond to the issues raised in the amendment, in full, as part of our formal response to the independent medicines and medical devices safety review. I therefore hope the noble Lord has heard enough, so that he is reassured and able to withdraw Amendment 67.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour 5:30 pm, 14th January 2021

My Lords, again, this has been an interesting debate. As was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, there are persuasive arguments to change the current approach to redress and clinical negligence more widely. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, that the Government’s response was short and not really sweet.

The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, is right to draw a distinction between schemes of redress and wider clinical negligence issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, has a later amendment dealing with specific recommendations on redress for the patient groups that she examined in her report. I took her argument for a redress agency to have much wider implications and considerations. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, expressed surprise at the wording of my Amendment 67. I simply sought to bring this back, so that we could have a wider discussion, as well as deal with the issues raised around the three patient groups in the noble Baroness’s report.

I have never understood why the redress Act was put on the statute book but never implemented. It is clear from talking to experts that it is regarded as flawed, but it is interesting that no Government have picked this up. Equally, we all accept that redress schemes for individual patient groups are an appropriate way forward. However, we are left with a system for clinical negligence that I simply do not believe works.

I heard what the Minister said about improvements for NHS Resolution, but the fundamental argument is that the system is getting more and more expensive—the £80 billion-plus question, as the Minister said. For patients and their relatives, it can be a daunting process, even though, as he said, more can be dealt with prior to going to court. But when the cases do go to court, NHS Resolution tends to lose them. We go back to the size of awards, where the issue, in essence, is that the NHS has to pay twice because of the way that the 1948 legislation was drafted.

At the end of the day, surely we need a thorough review of the whole issue of redress and clinical negligence. I can see that the Government do not yet accept the recommendations of the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege. In the end, we have to start with a clean sheet of paper to see if we can do better by patients, the NHS and all the individuals affected. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 67 withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees

We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 68. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in debate.