Medical blunders at hospitals treating South Holland patients are costing tens of millions of pounds in compensation and legal costs.
Compensation and legal fees paid between 2012-2017 for mistakes by United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust (ULHT) totalled more than £90million – making it England’s seventh costliest trust out of 258.
Patient watchdog group Healthwatch Lincolnshire is now asking “are we safe putting our lives in their hands?” as medical negligence adds to a catalogue of troubles at ULHT, chiefly performance and financial special measures and breach of key targets for A&E and cancer services.
Healthwatch chief executive officer Sarah Fletcher said: “Sadly, headlines such as this leaves doubt in our minds that the problems within the trust can be rectified.
“We know that ULHT staff, whether they are clinical or in administration, are working hard, care deeply and are doing their best for patients, but everything seems to be stacking up against them at the moment.”
However, Ms Fletcher says more information is needed about the number of cases involved before anyone jumps “to full conclusions just yet”.
The £90million included £191,113.76 for medical negligence claims pre-dating 1995, but paid out during the 2012-13 financial year – every penny involved maternity and none were linked to the reign of terror at Grantham Hospital by killer nurse Beverley Allitt.
Only £115,707.38 of that £191,000-plus bill involved compensation, while more than £75,000 was spent on NHS defence costs.
The total £90,350,004 cost of blunders at ULHT, whose hospitals are Pilgrim at Boston, Lincoln County and Grantham, is almost three times that of Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (£30,658,415.53) and more than six times that of the trust for Queen Elizabeth Hospital II at King’s Lynn (£13,828,158.46).
The Peterborough and King’s Lynn trusts are respectively 92 and 139 on the list of the nation’s most expensive for payouts.
The two main ambulance trusts serving the region have together cost more than £14million in negligence cases.
East Midlands Ambulance Trust (EMAS) saw the NHS payout total £7,363.186.29, making it England’s 155th costliest trust, with East of England Ambulance Service placed 156th with payouts totalling £7,190,290.06.
Figures compiled by the BBC show the NHS spent a mind-boggling £6.2billion on medical negligence cases in the five years to 2017, including claims pre-dating 1995
ULHT says every health trust pays a contribution to an organisation called NHS Resolution and that body settles the claims.
Karen Brown, ULHT’s director of finance, procurement and corporate affairs, explained: “There is a rising trend of compensation claims nationally and every NHS trust pays a contribution to an organisation called the NHS Resolution each year.
“This contribution is like an insurance premium, the quantity is calculated by the NHS Resolution and they settle all claims on behalf of ULHT.
“Therefore, any funds paid out in litigation cases are not paid by ULHT.
“This is covered by the insurance premium paid each year to NHS Resolution.
“We aim to provide the best quality care to each and every one of our patients. Where mistakes may have occurred, the trust uses this as an opportunity to learn lessons and improve the quality of care for our patients. This has been reflected in a reduction in our premiums for 2018/2019.”
Grantham’s consultant-led maternity unit closed in the late 1990s, and was later replaced by a midwife-led unit, but that closed several years ago, meaning babies are born at the trust’s Boston or Lincoln hospitals.
A spokesman for NHS Resolution said: “Incidents in maternity account for 10 per cent of the number of claims we receive each year but 50 per cent of the expected cost of the claims. This is because of the very high cost of cases which tragically involve brain damage at birth, where provision must be made for life-long and complex care needs.”
The Department of Health says: “Our relentless drive to improve patient safety, including an ambition to halve the rates of neonatal deaths, stillbirths, maternal deaths and brain injuries caused during or shortly after labour by 2025, 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.”
The Department of Health is trying to place a £25,000 ceiling on the amount legal firms can be paid for clinical negligence cases, but one patients’ charity says it could become impossible for some families to find a lawyer.
Maternity cases make up a high proportion of historic claims against the NHS but one charity says the same mistakes keep on happening.
Peter Walsh, chief executive of Action Against Medical Accidents, said: “We as a charity have been going for 35 years and we still see the same mistakes, the same avoidable errors causing injury now as we did 35 years ago.
“It is time the NHS had consistent high quality training for midwives and for doctors to ensure they are able to recognise the complications.”
Training offered by PROMPT Maternity Foundation – involving obstetricians, midwives and anaesthetists – had dramatic results at trusts where it was involved and, similarly, a Department of Health-funded training scheme reduced hypoxic (lack of oxygen) injuries by half at North Bristol Health Trust.
Mr Walsh said: “It beggars belief that this sort of evidence-based training has not been rolled out across the NHS.”
Claims are still being made for mistakes made at maternity wards more than 20 years ago and Mr Walsh says compensation is crucial to a child’s quality of life.
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