£6m paid out in damages by NHS

DAMAGES claims against hospitals in Suffolk and north Essex cost the NHS almost £6million last year, new figures reveal.A total of 70 clinical negligence claims were brought against hospitals in both counties during 2006/07, according to figures released by the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA).

By Danielle Nuttall

DAMAGES claims against hospitals in Suffolk and north Essex cost the NHS almost £6million last year, new figures reveal.

A total of 70 clinical negligence claims were brought against hospitals in both counties during 2006/07, according to figures released by the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA).

One Suffolk hospital said a growing compensation culture had meant more people were now seeking “redress” for damaged or stolen property as well as clinical mistakes.

But it said the number of patients bringing claims represented a tiny proportion of the total population treated every year.

Clinical negligence figures for Suffolk show the NHSLA paid out £560,226 towards claims on behalf of West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds.

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This amounted to £321,004 in damages to patients, with the rest made up of legal costs.

The organisation also paid out £429,406 on behalf of Ipswich Hospital, £250,501 of which was damages.

In Essex, the NHSLA paid out £3m on behalf of the Essex Rivers NHS Trust last year, nearly £2m of which was damages. The remainder was made up of defence and claimants costs.

It also paid out almost £1.6million on behalf of Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust, £621,561 of which was damages.

The NHSLA was established in 1995 and is responsible for handling negligence claims made against NHS bodies in England.

Hospitals pay an insurance premium every year which is measured depending on various risk management standards and the type of hospital it is. This means they do not pay claimants directly.

Ipswich Hospital spokeswoman Jan Rowsell said it now warned people very carefully about bringing valuables into hospital because of claims.

“Compensation culture is slowly coming into hospital but it's not just about medical negligence claims it's across the board,” she said.

“I think because the hospital is part of the community and the community is part of the hospital there generally seems to be a rise in people seeking redress than in the past.”

But she added: “We see around 350,000 people a year and 1,000 people a week in our outpatient's clinic. People need to be reassured we do everything we can to make sure no accidents happen.

“We have very rigorous procedures in-hand to try and reduce all the possible risks. Inevitably we cannot eliminate every single risk as medicine is not risk-free.”

Nichole Day, director of nursing at West Suffolk Hospital, said the 18 claims it settled last year were most likely to have been historic, as it often took years to resolve these matters.

“From what I have seen, we are not seeing any increase in claims. Instead, there has been a steady flow of claims, in keeping with the risks attached to some specialisms and in line with the national picture.

“If things do go wrong, our job is to be as open and honest with people as possible.”

A spokeswoman for Mid Essex Hospital Services stressed none of the costs of negligence claims were met from the trust's budget for patient care.

Denise Hagel, Essex Rivers NHS Trust's director of nursing, said: “The majority of these claims go back over an extended period of time, but have only recently come to fruition, so they do not reflect the trust's current performance.

“The number of claims needs to be seen in context with the 55,000 inpatients we see each year and the 28,000 patients treated in our theatres annually.

“When the trust does receive a claim against it, it always makes every effort to settle them quickly to reduce any potential cost. It also endeavours to be open and honest when dealing with any claim against it.”

Sandra Patton, clinical negligence specialist at Thetford-based solicitors Kester Cunningham John, said the amount of damages awarded depended on the level of care or equipment needed by the victim over the course of their life.

“Costs of care alone can be well into six figures per year,” she said. “If you extend that for the rest of a child's life, we are into millions of pounds.”

The solicitor said clinical negligence claims covered a wide range of errors, from diagnosis errors or delays, to surgical or orthopaedic mistakes.

“The damages depend on the effect of the negligence on an individual. If they cannot get back to work then damages are there to plug that financial gap,” she said.

“You may have a city merchant banker who is unable to work and his damages will be vastly more than somebody who happened to be in unemployment at the time and who had never worked or someone in fairly low paid employment.”

The NHSLA was contacted last night but no one was available to comment.

NHSLA clinical negligence claims 2006/2007

Number of claims Damages Total with legal costs

Ipswich Hospital 7 £250,501 £429,406

Essex Rivers Healthcare 12 £1,978,231 £3,024,382

Mid Essex Hospital Services 33 £621,561 £1,575,486

West Suffolk Hospital 18 £321,004 £560,226

Suffolk Mental Health Partnership 0 £25,000 £32,153

North Essex Mental Health Partnership 0 £45,000 £115,368