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No win, no fee news 25/01/2007

A new approach may help MRSA legal cases and reduce compensation claims

Members of the UK population affected by MRSA are turning to workplace safety legislation laws about accident compensation to take the NHS to court and make compensation claims.

Medical lawyers are using legislation on the control of hazardous substances to health to try to win personal injury accident compensation.

MRSA is cited on the death certificates of more than 1000 people every year and many more people are left severely ill or disabled. But MRSA is widespread in the community, so it is difficult for patients to prove that they were infected in hospital.

Now personal injury solicitors are turning to industrial accident legislation requiring employers to control exposure to hazardous substances in order to prevent ill-health and personal injury compensation claims.

There have been several out-of-court settlements where this argument has been used and many more challenges are on the way.

Government sets targets to be reached by 2008
Doubts have been raised about whether the government target of having Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) infections addressed by 2008 will be met.

Health minister Andy Burnham has told MPs that results show progress, but this isn't good enough.

Mr Burnham gave evidence before the Parliamentary Health Committee at an enquiry to discuss his ministerial duties for delivery and quality at the Department of Health.

He said: "On the target itself, it is true to say that there is some improvement and figures are coming down, so the trend is in the right way, but if you were to ask me am I satisfied with the rate of improvement, then I am not and I would like to see much quicker improvement and a much greater focus on the target.

The target was set by the former Health Secretary John Reid in 2004 to halve rates of MRSA infection within four years. But according to Mr Burnham "a large number of trusts..are not making enough progress."

MRSA accident compensation claims
Due to new legislation, the number of no win no fee MRSA accident compensation claims may be set to increase and may not be so reliant on the usual medical negligence argument.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) has been used in relation to MRSA accident compensation claims. COSHH requires employers to control the exposure to hazardous substances to prevent workplace personal injuries and ill-health. Personal injury solicitors have argued that this should also apply to hospital patients.

The involvement of COSHH in the compensation claim process means that although medical negligence may still be the main cause of MRSA outbreaks in UK hospitals, patients who have contracted the disease and suffered its symptoms may be more able to make a compensation claim.