Hospital trust runs up £80m medical blunder bill
- Credit: Archant
Medical failings stretching back more than two decades cost Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust millions of pounds a year.
The health body shelled out nearly £80 million to victims of blunders over the past five years – the tenth highest bill of all NHS trusts.
Research by the Barking and Dagenham Post, in partnership with the BBC, found medical negligence claims cost the NHS a whopping £6.2 billion between 2012 and 2017, a third of which went on legal fees.
Experts warn pressures on the health service will only increase as lawsuits eat away at public funds.
The health service’s negligence claims bill has quadrupled in 10 years to £1.6bn in 2016-17, with a Public Accounts Committee inquiry warning in November it risks “spiralling out of control without effective action”.
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The government is proposing a cap on the fees claimants can recover in low-value cases, a move Peter Walsh of Action Against Medical Accidents says “will make it impossible for some would-be claimants to find a solicitor prepared to take on the case”.
Figures from NHS Litigation Authority, which deals with claims for NHS trusts, show the trust’s payout pot was £19.4m in 2016-17, up £6.2m from the previous year.
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Damages amounted to £12.9m of this sum, with £1.1m in defence costs and £5.4m in claimant costs.
Incidents that occurred before April 1995, which the Department of Health pays for under its Existing Liabilities Scheme, racked up a further bill for nearly £865,000 from 2012-13 to the last financial year.
The bill for historical errors is made up completely from hospital mistakes during childbirth.
“We treat hundreds of thousands of patients every year and while we do our utmost to provide the best possible quality of care to every patient, on some occasions, things can go wrong,” said the trust’s chief nurse, Kathryn Halford.
“We understand this has an impact on the patient and their family, and we are extremely sorry when we do not live up to our own high standards of care.”
The trust has increased the number of midwives in the maternity department and incident reporting across its hospitals, as well as introducing weekly patient safety meetings and roles such as maternity support worker, she added.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “Our relentless drive to improve patient safety [...] will help to reduce traumatic and costly safety failings in the NHS and ensure better protection for patients.
“We’re ensuring taxpayers’ money is spent effectively by taking action against law firms creaming off excessive legal costs that dwarf the damages recovered – but we’re also clear we want to ensure patients continue to access justice at a reasonable cost.”
Rising life expectancy and a “change to the court discount rate” had increased costs resulting from historic claims, said an NHS Resolution spokesman.
“From April 1, this changed and NHS Resolution is now involved right from the start in order to improve the support for families and the healthcare staff involved in these rare but tragic incidents and to speed up resolution,” he added.