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Leigh Day client attacks Government proposals to remove legal aid for clinical negligence cases

Jonathan Sinclair-Wilson recently wrote to the press and the Justice Minister about funding clinical negligence claims

Photo: istock

7 February 2011

Leigh Day & Co partner Anne Winyard, a specialist in the field of clinical negligence claims for more than 30 years, has a particular interest in the area of pre-natal injury claims.  15 years ago she represented Benjamin Sinclair-Wilson and his parents in a claim relating to Benjamin’s severe brain injury and subsequent death at six years of age, caused by an amniocentesis needle penetrating his brain in the course of testing during his mother’s pregnancy.

Amniocentesis injury

Benjamin’s parents approached Anne to pursue a claim against St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington to establish whether or not Benjamin, one of twins, was injured during two successive amniocentesis tests when multiple attempts were made to obtain separate amniotic fluid samples from him and his twin sister. The claim eventually settled, after Benjamin’s death, for £95,000, which related largely to the major costs incurred by Benjamin’s family when caring for him.

Funding clinical negligence claims

In letters published in the Daily Mail on 18.1.11 and Daily Telegraph on 31.1.11 Mr Sinclair-Wilson points out that the coalition Government’s proposal to remove legal aid which allows clients to investigate and bring clinical negligence claims and to encourage instead claimants to seek ‘no win, no fee’ arrangements will not reduce public spending. 

He says of Benjamin’s case:

“The medical and evidential issues were complex and required extensive, expensive investigation.  It was only through the availability of legal aid (to Ben, as the plaintiff) that we were able to establish the cause, which was confirmed by the post-mortem.  It would have been very unlikely that we would have found a firm willing to act on the basis of a success fee.

The Government’s proposal to replace legal aid with success fees won't counter the ‘compensation culture’; it will foster it, not least for the demeaning assumption it makes that the only motive for bringing a clinical negligence case is the money. We embarked on Ben’s cases to discover the cause of his condition, as St Mary’s refused to discuss or investigate the matter.

The full cost of medical negligence to its victims and to society is far larger than is represented by any awards made.”

Anne Winyard added that the coalition’s proposals mean that patients and lawyers will suffer as ministers try to make more claimants pay for items such as for the cost of instructing medical experts to draw up reports, at the same time as cutting legal aid funding. 

She said:

“It’s a pincer movement that will really seriously reduce access to justice”.

Plans to reduce public funding for clinical negligence clients may be part of a desire by the coalition Government to reduce the number of such claims that are brought each year.  However, medical errors and accidents, which have a devastating emotional and financial effect on patients and their families, are likely to go unchecked, unreported and will increase if the ability to hold doctors to account is removed from patients. 

Please contact our clinical negligence new enquiries team if you would like to speak to someone about a possible claim for compensation resulting from a medical accident on 020 7650 1200.

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