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2 August 2013, 12:23
Four hospitals on the South Coast have been named among NHS trusts in England allowing personal injury lawyers to advertise within their wards and A&E departments.
An investigation's found Southampton General (pictured), the QA in Portsmouth, Poole and Dorset County are among 40 doing so across the UK, despite the government condemning the practice as unacceptable, and Department of Health guidelines, issued repeatedly since 2004, warning that the practice must come to an end.
The investigation found that some hospitals are paid up to £112,000 a year in return for allowing advertising, while other NHS trusts receive no income, but instead get information leaflets printed for free in return for a "no win, no fee advert" on the back.
Two personal injury law firms even have offices within NHS hospitals in Southampton General Hospital and Addenbrooke's hospital in Cambridge. The lawyers who advertise on NHS premises are not doing anything illegal but hospitals have been repeatedly told by the Government to bring an end to the practice.
A DoH spokesperson said that such adverts implied endorsement of these companies by the trust and can undermine the relationship between staff and patients:
"We have been clear it is not acceptable for this sort of advertising in NHS hospitals. Any trusts behaving in that way need to immediately review their procedures.
"Patients should be able to focus on receiving treatment and getting better, without having to be hounded by lawyers or adverts displayed in A&E; departments."
Compensation claims against the NHS rose by 20% last year.
A University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust said:
"The Trust's contractual agreement for patient information and patient/outpatient appointment cards with BOE Publishing was terminated on 25th October 2012 and our patient literature no longer carries any personal injury advertising.
"I am unable to disclose any information on Kiteleys Solicitors as arrangements are commercially sensitive."
A statement from Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the QA, said:
"Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust has a contract with BOE for the creation of leaflets across a number of hospital services including the emergency department, medical cards and some clinical leaflets. This contract commenced in 1996 and does not generate any additional income for the hospital trust.
"BOE creates free leaflet materials for the trust through paid for advertising featured on the printed materials. BOE decides which companies advertise, which has in the past included a personal injury lawyer firm. The trust did not receive any income from these advertisements."
A Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust statement said:
"The trust has a contract with BOE Medical Publishing to provide a range of patient information until 31 December 2013. Renewal of this contract will be reviewed prior to this date."
A spokesperson for Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said:
“Arrangements are already underway for emergency department patient information leaflets to be produced in-house.”
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers said it was unaware of these contracts with clauses not to sue hospitals. The organisation's chief executive Deborah Evans defended putting adverts in hospitals.
"If you've been injured the chances are high that you are going to go to a hospital. So actually law firms advertising in hospitals are reaching out to the very people who need them the most.
"As long as the advertisements are informative and educational and offer advice and assistance and support, then that is exactly the place they should be."