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Costs of clinical negligence litigation are spiralling out of control, thanks partly to the conduct of lawyers on all sides, according to research published this week by the National Audit Office (NAO).The NAO report issued today (3 May), Handling Clinical Negligence Claims in England, blames claimant solicitors for rejecting attempts at mediation and warns that defendant firms could do more to speed up case handling.The NAO called on the National Health Service Litigation Authority (NHSLA) to assess the performance of their panel firms. Panel firms are assessed every three years. In January the NHSLA culled six firms and brought on five firms.Several firms involved in the review complained that they had not been given adequate terms of reference by the NHSLA, but it denied this.According to the report, claimant firms are blocking NHSLA panel firms from using mediation as a cost effective way to cut down on expensive and prolonged litigation. Only 16% of claims recommended for mediation have been accepted as suitable and not been prosecuted by claimant solicitors.The report states that the NHSLA, which was set up five years ago to handle higher value cases, accounts for 42% of all the clinical negligence litigation that takes place against the NHS, and on average each of the 15 panel firms has more than 300 open files at any one time.Claimant solicitors deny they are slow to get involved. Irwin Mitchell clinical negligence partner John Pickering said: “I have offered mediation, but have only had it accepted on one occasion.”

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