Last week I had information passed to me which demonstrated shocking breaches of NHS advertising guidelines. It exposed the cosy relationships that have existed and continue to exist between claims management companies/personal Injury lawyers and many NHS Trusts. After some excellent investigative work by freelance journalist Stephanie Condron, it has emerged that claims management companies are paying around two thirds of NHS Trusts tens of thousands of pounds each year to leave calling cards and booklets in A&E waiting rooms that urge patients to use their services to make personal injury claims.
The lawyers then agree not to help patients sue the NHS Trusts who let them advertise – in other words not biting the hand that feeds them. At a time when the Government is proposing to ban referral fees in personal injury claims in an attempt to curb the "compensation culture" that has become ever more prevalent, I find it shocking and unethical that any public service provider should engage in these arrangements and seek to avoid its own legal responsibility by doing shady back-hand deals with ambulance-chasing lawyers.
I raised this in the House of Commons in both Health and Business questions, and I was heartened by Health Minister Simon Burns' response that "it is not acceptable for that sort of advertising in NHS hospitals", adding "I would hope that any Trusts behaving in that way immediately review their procedures." Leader of the House Sir George Young stated: "I am disturbed to hear that such advertisements are going up in hospitals in our country." I am confident that there is the political will to ensure NHS advertising guidelines are adhered to. I have tabled Early Day Motion 2611* to condemn the breaching of advertising guidelines and call for the guidelines to be rigorously enforced. I am pleased that this has received cross-party support.
For NHS Trusts to agree to the deals on the basis that lawyers will not sue them is unethical – it simply shifts the problem on to small businesses and local authorities. The taxpayer can still end up losing out. If we are to tackle what the Prime Minister has described as the "health and safety monster" and help end a "culture of fear" amongst businesses then the Government must insist that all public service providers, and in particular, NHS Trusts, cease all advertising of personal injury lawyers and claims management companies, and those found to be in breach of the rules should face severe penalties. Our public services must get their house in order as we seek to deal with the spurious and frivolous injury claims which costs consumers so much time and money. Otherwise, instead of "slaying the health and safety monster", we will continue to feed it.
*The text of the EDM is as follows:
"That this House condemns the breaching of Department of Health advertising guidelines by personal injury lawyers and claim management companies who are and have been advertising in NHS hospitals; and calls on the Department of Health to enforce rigorously these guidelines to ensure such practices do not occur in the future."