Government plans to introduce a new law dealing with clinical negligence will have serious implications for thousands of potential claimants, according to a Midlands lawyer.
Clare Langford, a clinical negligence solicitor at Black Country law firm Higgs & Sons, believes the NHS Redress Bill debated by Government will seriously impact on people's access to justice a nd entitlement to compensation.
"The rationale was to simplify the procedure for victims of negligent medical treatment to bring a claim for compensation and offer a more speedy resolution.
"The reality is claims for compensation under £20,000 will be dealt with internally by the NHS Litigation Authority without the need for legal proceedings."
The NHS Litigation Authority would conduct the investigation and as to whether they believe there had been negligence. Only if it were deemed appropriate would they make an offer of compensation - without necessarily admitting liability.
Ms Langford, a solicitor in Higgs' personal injury team, went on: "The intention of the proposed Bill to improve and quicken the current procedure is welcomed but it is in need of serious reform.
"The NHS Litigation Authority is an arm of the NHS, but it would be acting as investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury in determining whether there had been an act of negligence and whether it was appropriate to pay a sum of compensation. This clearly represents a conflict of interest."
According to the Depart-ment of Health, claims valued at under £20,000 represent 75 per cent of all those brought for clinical negligence.
The concern is that the Government's proposals mean that the vast majority of victims who have suffered negligent medical treatment will be denied the right to independent legal and medical advice.
Ms Langford said: "Clinical negligence cases are complex and it is essential there is a careful and comprehensive examination of facts by independent experts. If investigations are conducted without people having access to specialist advice, this could mean serious miscarriages of justice, denying victims of clinical negligence much-needed compensation.
"This goes against the whole ethos of the English legal system, based upon independence, impartiality and justice.
"A Redress Scheme will only be successful if the process is independent, open and credible. Without the input of specialist advice we cannot expect victims of clinical negligence to have any confidence in the system and there will be scope for injustice. The whole objective of the Redress Bill will therefore be defeated."
The NHS Redress Bill will now return to the House of Commons for further debate before implementation.