Hospital 'negligence' payouts revealed

HOSPITALS in north Essex have paid out nearly £13million in just three years to settle clinical negligence claims, the EADT can reveal.Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that alleged blunders at hospitals in the area cost taxpayers an average of more than £4million a year.

HOSPITALS in north Essex have paid out nearly £13million in just three years to settle clinical negligence claims, the EADT can reveal.

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that alleged blunders at hospitals in the area cost taxpayers an average of more than £4million a year.

Two hundred patients brought claims for clinical negligence between April 2001 and April 2004, while up to 50 NHS employees also sought damages for ailments such as stress and back problems.

In the same period, Essex Rivers Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs Colchester General Hospital and Essex County Hospital, and Mid Essex Hospitals NHS Trust - responsible for Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford - paid out £9.4million in damages and £3.4million in legal costs.


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Thirteen of the claims were brought for alleged plastic surgery mistakes at the Mid Essex trust, while a total of 25 related to incidents in casualty, 38 in obstetrics and gynaecology, 26 in general surgery as well as two in anaesthesia.

The numbers will fuel fears of a growing compensation culture in which lawyers have dismayed some NHS staff by leaving publicity leaflets in casualty departments.

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It is estimated the average value of each claim settled is £100,000 damages and £40,000 legal fees.

While the vast bulk of settlements do not come directly from hospitals' annual budgets, the amounts do affect their contributions to an overall NHS fighting fund – the Clinical Negligence Scheme for Trusts (CNST), which is wholly funded by the taxpayer.

Each year, actuaries forecast the total amount to be settled before setting each trust's contribution, based on factors including hospital size, type and the level of assessed risk.

Risk ratings range from one to three with three being the "safest" entitling a trust to a 30% discount on premiums.

Currently, Essex Rivers is rated level two for acute services and level three for maternity services, while Mid Essex is just level one for everything.

According to the NHS Litigation Authority, claimants abandon about one in three of all claims, but 43% are settled out of court in favour of the patient.

Just over 2% go to court where only a handful are settled in favour of the NHS.

On average, each claim stays on file for about 16 months before it is resolved, so payments made in the three-year period do not necessarily relate to the total claims brought.

Between 2001 and 2004, Essex Rivers, which has an annual turnover of £120million, received 81 clinical negligence claims, paying out £3.8million damages and £1.3million in legal costs.

During the same period, the Mid Essex trust, which has an annual budget of £146million - and which also runs St John's Hospital in Chelmsford, St Peter's in Maldon, and Braintree's William Julien Courtauld and St Michael's hospitals - received 119 claims, including 14 for incidents in orthopaedic surgery and six in urology.

In that time it paid out £7.6million – made up of £5.5 million damages and more than £2million legal bills.

Neither trust was able last night to say how many, if any, of its staff had been disciplined as a result of settled claims, but both insisted they were proud of their clinical records and stressed the number of claims were tiny compared to the millions of cases they deal with each year.

A spokesman for Essex Rivers said: "Whilst we acknowledge that the level of expenditure spent on litigation over the past three years is significant, the amount is in no way extraordinary when compared to other similar sized NHS acute trusts.

"We are extremely proud of our clinical expertise at the trust and in no way does the number of cases of litigation reflect our standard of care.

"In the past three years, we have received 81 clinical negligence claims, having seen and successfully treated over two million cases."

A spokesman for Mid Essex Hospitals NHS Trust said: "Although we acknowledge the general in negligence claims both within the trust and wider society, the number of claims is in line with similar sized trusts and they in no way reflect the high standard of care we provide to the thousands of patients we see and treat every day."

Both trusts said they treat every complaint and claimant "with the utmost seriousness" and that all cases are fully investigated and when necessary lessons are learned to improve services.

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