I've taken the headline from a tweet (see right) by Matthew Stockwell, an exasperated former president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, in response to yesterday's Mail on Sunday lead story under the headline "Vulture lawyers bleed NHS for £418m" (see below).
It's an odd story in that towards the end it contradicts itself by setting out a far more accurate picture of the headline figure and cogently putting the claimant lawyers' case that the conduct of the NHS in defending cases is a major contributor to the level of costs racked up. The damage has been done by then, of course, through the extreme language used.
The significance of the story is that it undoubtedly presages the Department of Health's long-overdue consultation on introducing fixed fees in lower-value clinical negligence cases. It is a standard government tactic to feed partial information to the media to highlight the depth of a 'problem', just before it comes up with the solution.
This also sometimes allows the media to claim credit for bringing about reform. So don't be shocked to see the headline "Mail on Sunday secures victory for NHS against vulture lawyers" at some point in the future.
Is there anything the profession can do about it? It's not easy - a beloved national institution forced to pay out money to "vultures" instead of hiring more nurses is not the easiest story to counter, whatever the underlying truth.
Groups such as APIL, the Society of Clinical Injury Lawyers and the Law Society have been keeping their powder dry, and when the consultation is published they will give it their best to put their side of the story.
There is plenty of evidence to hand - indeed, just three months ago, the same Mail on Sunday journalist reported that the number of NHS mistakes has doubled in just three years - but politicians will not have to worry about a popular uprising to support lawyers keeping fees at their current level.
With the government legislating for its own financial benefit, it is a fight where rational argument and warnings over access to justice may simply not be enough. But the profession has to try. And at least yesterday they got a free Lego toy out of it.
Grasping law firms charged a record £418 million last year after pursuing cases of medical blunders against the NHS, a Mail on Sunday investigation reveals today. And some greedy ‘ambulance chasers’ have been accused of pulling in ‘grossly inflated’ fees, many times what their clients actually received in compensation. Our inquiries also expose how law firms are apparently prepared to brazenly overcharge for their services while bringing complaints against the NHS.