Published: 16/06/2005, Volume II5, No. 5960 Page 25

Peter Walsh, chief executive, Action against Medical Accidents

Gerry Armitage is right that ways must be found to increase the quantity and quality of adverse incident reporting (Feedback, page 23, 26 May). However, he should avoid perpetuating the myth of 'a litigious culture that has apparently swept into the NHS'. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The number of new compensation claims received by the NHS has gone down for two years running, and it is accepted even by the NHS Litigation Authority that only a tiny fraction of potential claimants actually make a claim.

The Department of Health estimates that there are over 850,000 medical accidents in English hospitals each year. The number of new claims received by the NHSLA in 2004 was 6,000. Our experience at Action against Medical Accidents is that people are very reluctant to take legal action, and when they do it tends to be a last resort, having failed to resolve the complaint through other means.

Talk of a 'compensation culture' in the NHS is not only misguided, it is a distraction from the real issue of improving patient safety.