Safety pledge as hospital damages bill tops £1.5m

Hospital bosses in Northumberland paid over one million pounds in damages in the last year following serious mistakes in care, new figures reveal.

By Katie Williams
Monday, 21st December 2020, 10:02 am
Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital at Cramlington.
Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital at Cramlington.

Data from NHS Resolution, which handles such cases on behalf of the NHS, shows Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust paid out £1.5m after 48 clinical negligence claims were successful in 2019-20.

Legal costs totalled another £376,312.

Successful claims against the Trust were up 20% compared to the 40 reported in 2018-19, when £6.7m was paid in damages.

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NHS Resolution also says it was notified of 55 formal negligence claims against the Trust in 2019-20, as well as six further incidents which could result in a claim.

Birju Bartoli, executive director of performance and improvement at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said: "We take our duty of care to our patients extremely seriously and always strive to provide the highest standards of safe and compassionate care to the thousands of patients every year.

“As an open and transparent organisation, we are committed to continuous improvement and fully investigating and learning from all incidents to make sure, as far as possible, we can prevent them reoccurring.

“We work with parties involved in cases to reach a conclusion as quickly as possible, however, certain claims, due to their complex nature, can take a considerable amount of time to conclude, and therefore the amount paid out in any one year is not a reflection of the care provided in that period.”

People can bring a claim against an NHS trust if they believe they, or a family member, suffered harm or died due to negligent treatment.

NHS Resolution's clinical negligence scheme for trusts handles all claims against members for incidents which happened after April 1 1995.

This means claims settled in the past year could be the result of incidents which occurred years before.

Trusts pay into the scheme on a pay-as-you-go basis to cover the bill due each year.

In a report, Ian Dilks, chairman of NHS Resolution, said the price of negligence across the NHS was £8.3bn nationally – down from £9bn in 2018-19.

He said: "We continue to play our part in reducing the cost of claims through actions to improve both patient safety and the way incidents and complaints are handled but, as a National Audit Office report published in 2017 concluded, any strategy to tackle the drivers of cost will need to include legal reform.

"We hope that through reform, a way can be found to significantly reduce the cost to the public purse at no detriment to justice."

In January, the Government is due to publish its review on the amount of money the winning party in a claim can request from the losing party – for claims less than £25,000.

Earlier this year, the Medical Defence Union, which provides support and advice for doctors, dentists and other healthcare workers, warned the number of claims against the NHS could increase following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr Michael Devlin, the union's head of professional standards and liaison, said: "Every example of negligence takes its toll on the patients and families involved, but the compensation being paid out puts enormous pressure on NHS funding, especially at a time when the NHS needs to recover from the pandemic."