Struggling hospital’s bill for medical mistakes 10 times higher than last year
PUBLISHED: 05:30 25 February 2020 | UPDATED: 16:19 25 February 2020
ARCHANT/SUPPLIED BY FAMILY
West Suffolk Hospital has seen its medical negligence bills balloon from £895,000 to over £9million in the last year, we can reveal.
The Bury St Edmunds based hospital, downgraded from 'outstanding' to 'requires improvement' last month, had a bill of £9.1million for 19 successful clinical negligence claims closed in 2018/19.
Of that, £4.6m was paid in damages, with the remaining bill paid to people who elected not to receive the full payout straight away, or require monthly or annual payments for ongoing care.
The £9.1m figure is 10 times the £895,000 bill facing the trust in 2017/18.
Hospital chiefs said any claims paid out are footed by litigation authority NHS Resolution, not the trust - and payments made may relate to claims made in earlier financial years.
'Lives turned upside down'
Specialist clinical negligence lawyer Guy Forster, from Irwin Mitchell, said: "When medical errors occur, the lives of patients and their families are turned upside down.
"The settlements they receive are not some kind of lottery win. They are carefully calculated to pay for the specialist care, support and therapies they require to help them get their lives back on track and, in the case of birth injuries, pay for a lifetime of care for people left severely disabled.
He added: "This does nothing to allay fears that health trusts are not learning from patient safety incidents - an issue that the Care Quality Commission highlighted in its recent investigation report into the West Suffolk Hospital trust."
'Sense of justice'
The total bill for Suffolk and north Essex's hospitals, mental health trusts and ambulance service came to £24.9m.
The East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust (ESNEFT), which runs Ipswich and Colchester hospitals, paid the most in damages with £10.1million for 78 claims.
It also paid out the most for errors in obstetrics (midwifery and childbirth), with £6.3m.
James Paget Hospital saw its payouts decrease to £2.9m, down from £10m in 2017/18.
Among those who received a settlement last year was the family of Sheila Coley, from Thetford, who died from a fall just days after arriving at West Suffolk Hospital for an unrelated illness.
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Her daughter Lucy Wheatley said: "People go to clinical negligence lawyers not initially for financial gain but for answers that are often not forthcoming from the hospital, and for a sense of justice.
"Especially in the case of unnecessary, avoidable deaths like my poor mum.
"I know without our solicitor we would not have discovered the full extent of an event that led to mum's death.
She added: "Transparency is a real issue, and grieving families have to fight for the truth, not a watered down version of it."
'My family received virtually nothing'
Mental health trusts the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) and Essex Partnership University Trust (EPUT) had bills of £680,000 and £959,000 respectively, while the ambulance service had the smallest amount at £637,000.
The family of Ipswich student Henry-Curtis Williams, who died just days after being released from a mental health unit, was among those paid a settlement from NSFT in 2018/19.
His mother Pippa Travis-Williams said: "I am astonished about the settlement figure for 2018/19 claims against NSFT as my family received virtually nothing in the grand scale of things. We fought against them with a recommended legal team of specialists for three-and-a-half years and eventually received a negligible settlement and a pathetic apology and admission that NSFT were responsible for the death of my only son Henry and had it not been for their negligent actions, he would still be alive today.
MORE: Mum of university student Henry fears more deaths at troubled mental health trust
She added: "I also lost my 27-year career and continued pension rights with NSFT, following Henry's death, as they chose to dismiss me on grounds of ill health at absolutely no cost to them.
"Was I really expected to return to work with the very clinicians who failed to safeguard my son in his darkest hours?
"Shame on them - they are a disgrace and continue to put vulnerable people's lives at risk by ploughing extortionate amounts of money into ineffective management structures when the money should be going into clinical training, support, supervision, recruitment of more front line staff and provision of local inpatient beds."
She was also keen to point out the breakdown of the payouts, with £315,000 being spent on claimants, and £101,799 going to defence lawyers.
What did the NHS trusts have to say?
West Suffolk Hospital bosses said: "Delivery of high quality care is always our top priority and if something does go wrong, it's our duty to say sorry and make sure we learn from what happened.
"On the rare occasion that something goes wrong, we work closely with NHS Resolution to ensure claims are resolved as quickly as possible for the families involved."
They added: "We'd like to reiterate our sincere and heartfelt apologies to Mrs Coley's family.
"It was our duty to make sure we learned from what happened, and to implement that learning across the trust - we have increased the level of checks required for patients when they arrive in a ward, such as their need for bed side-rails or other equipment to help prevent falls. We have also carried out extensive additional training with staff on the ward.
"We do not underestimate the impact this very sad incident has had, and will continue to have, on Mrs Coley's family and we continue to offer them our deepest sympathies."
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ESNEFT's medical director Dr Crawford Jamieson said: "At ESNEFT our priority is to provide safe, high quality and compassionate care to the 800,000 people we serve as the region's largest healthcare trust.
"The majority of our patients say they receive excellent or good care, but in a minority of cases we could have done things differently. If something does go wrong we fully investigate what has happened and use any lessons learned to improve our services.
"We work closely with NHS Resolution to make sure any claims are processed as quickly and fairly as possible.
He added: "Around 6,500 babies are born at our hospitals every year.
"Obstetric claims are usually associated with life-long support for a child's care and living costs and therefore attract a higher sum of compensation.
"They are often delayed and will be dependent on a child's development milestones, sometimes up until their 10th birthday, with interim payments being made until a settlement is agreed."
'Length of time to settle claims can vary'
Julia Hunt, director of nursing at the James Paget University Hospital, said when an incident occurs a thorough investigation is carried out.
She added: "Figures for each year can fluctuate as cases may take different lengths of time to reach resolution.
"We always aim to deliver safe and compassionate patient care and, as such, we take all possible steps to minimise the occurrence of incidents that might result in a claim."
A spokesman for the East of England Ambulance Service said: "The general time limit for clinical negligence and personal injury claims to be brought is three years from the date of the alleged negligence. However, there are circumstances where the three year time limit will not start until later on i.e. children or if an injured person lacks mental capacity.
"Due to these timescales and complexity of cases, the cost of claims within any given financial year can vary considerably.
"This is further affected by the individual's circumstances or the clinical outcome for example a case involving a child or someone who would require extensive care for their lifetime would deem a much higher claim settlement."
Dawn Collins, deputy chief nurse for NSFT, said: "Our staff work very hard to support people so that they receive good quality care when they need it.
"Some 48,000 people in Norfolk and Suffolk receive services from NSFT staff every year. Unfortunately, there times when things do go wrong.
"We want to learn to do better, share that learning across the trust and make improvements wherever we can."