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Mesh victims say adversarial claims system creates a 'lottery'

Patients injured by pelvic mesh implants have said they feel let down by the legal system as their struggles for compensation have dragged on.

The Hughes Report, published today by England’s patient safety commissioner Dr Henrietta Hughes, said the lack of an independent body to decide redress was ‘unsustainable and causing immense anxiety for harmed patients’.

The report recommends that a new redress scheme should be non-adversarial and cover both financial and non-financial aspects.

Mesh implants were given to women to support internal organs after childbirth or a hysterectomy, with thousands of victims thought to have been permanently injured as a result.

With no formal redress scheme in place, injured people have been forced to pursue litigation, but Hughes’ report says that their experiences of the legal route shows how flawed the system is.

‘Too many patients conveyed their experiences of being let down by the legal system – even when they think they have a strong case,’ said Hughes. ‘The nature of the adversarial legal system means that factors and issues that claimants feel are irrelevant become relevant, leading to a lottery in terms of success. For those who have been successful in their claims, litigation cannot award the type of holistic, restorative support that patients require to move forward with their lives.’

Hughes added that patients have faced huge challenges bringing either clinical negligence claims or product liability cases.

Claimants have been dropped by legal representatives ‘without warning and have had to find new solicitors under impossible timeframes… generally time limits for bringing a claim were a common complaint. Patients also expressed the view that legal routes were stressful, time-consuming and lacking empathy.’

Hughes said that just two of the nine recommendations of the First Do No Harm report from 2020 on the mesh implant scandal have been implemented. The government has repeatedly rejected the call for an independent redress agency, but non-committal on the creation of bespoke schemes for particular issues that require compensation.

The government has instead championed the creation of ‘claims gateways’ through NHS Resolution, suggesting these were easier legal routes to litigation. The report said this was misleading, as the gateways did not change the limitation periods that pose such difficulties for claimants.

The Hughes report recommended that an interim scheme could identify those who have been harmed and a main scheme could then assess individual needs. Non-financial redress should also be provided for support in accessing benefits and housing to those affected by pelvic mesh.

On costs involved with the redress system, the report added: ‘Oversight of the level of legal fees involved in the administration of any settlement is needed from the outset, similar to the judicial oversight of fees in class actions. Care must be taken to avoid a situation such as the Australian pelvic mesh settlements where legal and administrative costs made up around a third of the settlement figure.’

Health secretary Victoria Atkins said the government is looking 'very, very carefully' at the report and in time will come forward with some 'meaningful recommendations and proposals'.

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