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Payouts to patients for medical mistakes at region’s NHS soars to record

PUBLISHED: 06:38 16 January 2018 | UPDATED: 08:33 16 January 2018

Ambulances queuing at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital A&E department.
 Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Ambulances queuing at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital A&E department. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2017

A record amount is being paid out to patients for medical mistakes at the region’s NHS.

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Photo: ArchantNorfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Photo: Archant

Payouts for clinical negligence at NHS trusts serving Norfolk and north Suffolk have cost more than £100m in the last five years and come as the health service is under intense pressure.

Figures from NHS Resolution, which deals with clinical negligence claims for the trusts, show last year was a record for compensation at seven NHS trusts in Norfolk and north Suffolk, totalling almost £28m.

That was up 50pc on the previous year and almost double two years ago.

The majority of money paid to complainants was because of mistakes at the region’s hospitals.

The amount paid out has soared since 2014 with steep rises at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (N&N) and Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn.

The amount paid because of errors at the region’s mental health service, the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT), has gone up almost fivefold since 2014 to just under £1.5m last year.

And the amount paid by NHS Resolution because of errors at the East of England Ambulance Service has trebled in three years to almost £2.5m.

Mistakes at the N&N meant a record £7.5m was paid in 2016/17, the bill for the James Paget in Gorleston was £7.7m, while the Queen Elizabeth Hospital cost £4.6m, up from just £1.7m the year before.

The James Paget hospital in Gorleston had the highest amount of payouts last year for medical mistakes at £7.7m. Photo: ArchantThe James Paget hospital in Gorleston had the highest amount of payouts last year for medical mistakes at £7.7m. Photo: Archant

The payouts are often made years after the medical mistakes.

In November last year the family of a seven-year-old girl, who was left severely disabled from errors when she was born at the N&N, received more than £2.5m in damages.

The girl was born in 2010 and has cerebral palsy after her brain was starved of oxygen during her birth.

She is now unable to walk, has hearing and sight difficulties, is tube-fed and has a shortened life expectancy.

West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds. Photograph Simon ParkerWest Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds. Photograph Simon Parker

Her mother sued the hospital for damages and it agreed to pay a lump sum of £2.5m as well as annual payments to cover the costs of care throughout her life.

Those payments will start at £125,000 a year between the ages of seven and 10, and will rise to £165,000 a year from 11 to 19 and £240,000 a year from 19 onwards.

The James Paget, meanwhile, paid £20,000 in compensation to the family of Gorleston woman Daphne Simpson in 2015.

Ms Simpson died at the hospital in April 2012 following a series of errors, including gaps in nursing records and unexpected falls.

Costs for clinical negligence at the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust have gone up five-fold in three years. Photo: Bill SmithCosts for clinical negligence at the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust have gone up five-fold in three years. Photo: Bill Smith

It took her family three years to settle the claim for negligence.

Neil Austin, partner and head of clinical negligence at Gordon Dean solicitors, said medical cases could be highly complex meaning they take a long time to settle.

The patient has to prove there was a breach of duty by the NHS and that it caused harm. “That is why it is difficult and expensive,” he said.

Negotiations with NHS Resolution can then take months before a case gets to court and medical experts also need to be hired by the patient’s legal team.

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in King's Lynn. Photo: QEHThe Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in King's Lynn. Photo: QEH

Of the £33.2m paid out by the N&N from 2012 to 2017, £23m was paid in damages, £2.3m was for the hospital’s legal costs and almost £8m was for the claimants’ legal costs.

The N&N is the region’s biggest hospital and had more money to pay out than any other NHS trust in the region in those five years.

That was followed by the James Paget Hospital which paid out £27m.

West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds paid £13.3m in damages from 2012 to 2017.

Rowan Procter from West Suffolk hospital. Photo: Submitted/West Suffolk HospitalRowan Procter from West Suffolk hospital. Photo: Submitted/West Suffolk Hospital

The least amount was paid out by the Norfolk Community Health and Care Trust.

Payouts can take years to settle and some trusts are still making payments for mistakes made before 1995.

In 2015/16, the James Paget hospital paid almost £21,000 for a clinical negligence case going back to before 1995.

And the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn paid almost £50,000 last year for pre-1995 cases.

Anna Hills, director of governance and workforce at the James Paget University Hospital NHS Trust. Pic: James Paget University Hospital.Anna Hills, director of governance and workforce at the James Paget University Hospital NHS Trust. Pic: James Paget University Hospital.

In 2016/17 there were 73 new claims by patients against the N&N and 46 against the James Paget. There were another 24 against the QEH, seven against the NSFT and 15 against the ambulance service.

•What the NHS says

•Anna Hills, director of governance at the James Paget hospital, said: “We take all possible steps to minimise the occurrence of incidents that might result in a claim.” •Chief Executive of the QEH Jon Green said the increase in payments was for “large one-off cases and not any systematic problem”.

Jon Green, the Chief Executive of The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn. Photo: The Queen Elizabeth HospitalJon Green, the Chief Executive of The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn. Photo: The Queen Elizabeth Hospital

•Dawn Collins, from the NSFT, said the data did not reflect a recent rise in clinical negligence as many of the payouts were for cases from before 2014.

•Sandy Brown, from the East of England Ambulance Service, said: “The figures reported here relate to eight claims across a year when we dealt with more than a million emergency 999 calls.”

•Rowan Procter, executive chief nurse at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Patient safety and the delivery of high quality care is our top priority and if something does go wrong we fully investigate what has happened.”

•A spokesman for the N&N said: “The Trust is committed to providing the best possible care to all our patients.”

•The £1.6 billion bill for errors

The bill for all types of medical negligence claims in England rose four-fold in 10 years to £1.6 billion in 2016-17.

Last year, the Government decided that lump-sum damage payments should be larger from March 2017 onwards.

But the Department of Health has also put forward several measures to cut medical negligence costs.

They include a plan to cap the fees that legal firms can recoup, resolving more medical negligence cases before they go to court and cash for hospitals which make maternity services safer.

An inquiry by the Public Accounts Committee in November 2017 warned that pressures on the NHS could see the litigation bill “spiralling out of control”.

Payouts are made under something called the Clinical Negligence Scheme for

Trusts (CNST), which is funded by NHS Resolution, by charging NHS trusts a premium based on expected payouts.

•Have you been involved in a clinical negligence case? Contact our health correspondent Geraldine Scott at geraldine.scott@archant.co.uk

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