Millions paid out in compensation by NHS

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Queen Alexandra Hospital
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Even some of the most highly-skilled medical staff in the NHS can get it wrong.

And when they do the repercussions can be catastrophic to patients and end up costing the NHS millions of pounds.

In the last financial year £9.6m has been paid out after claims of malpractice were made against Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust – the organisation that runs Queen Alexandra Hospital, pictured.

Some of the highest payouts have been for failure or delay to treatment or diagnosis, inadequate nursing care, unnecessary pain caused, additional operations needed and even a death.

In total there have been 332 clinical negligence claims in the past five years against the trust.

At the end of December last year 69 of these cases were being looked into, 99 were closed with no damages being paid and 163 resulted in total damages of £7.13m being paid out.

The NHS Litigation Authority, which regulates the payments and claims, said it is unable to identify patients and how much was paid out to individuals, due to confidentiality agreements.

But it did reveal that in 45 cases damages of less than £5,000 were awarded, a further 97 were between £5,000 and £99,999 and 21 were between £100,000 to £600,000.

Many cases getting payouts in recent years have been due to bad birthing practices at the former St Mary’s Hospital, in Milton Road, Milton.

These payouts ran into six-figure sums, which have taken years to battle out at the High Court.

Cases include a £5.3m payout after a girl was left with cerebral palsy.

She was starved of oxygen when her mother was giving birth at St Mary’s, which meant she sustained severe brain damage and will now need lifetime care.

In another case dating back to March 2003, a girl was left brain-damaged after blunders by maternity staff during her birth. The girl was starved of oxygen in the womb, and maternity staff missed vital signs on monitoring equipment which indicated she was in distress during labour.

She won £8.75m damages.

And one family was awarded £32,000 in compensation after their son died.

The tot was starved of oxygen and suffered 99 per cent brain damage during his birth at St Mary’s in 2004.

His life support was switched off when he was eight days old.

The parents were given the sum of money in an out-of-court settlement.

Another set of parents received more than £1m after their daughter was starved of oxygen during birth and was left with quadriplegic cerebral palsy.

John White is head of medical negligence cases at Blake Lapthorn – a law firm that specialises in medical cases.

He has had 14 years of experience in the field and explains why payouts can be so big.

‘The problem often is trusts think they can win so they will take the matter to court,’ he said.

‘If they know they’re not going to win then they will settle out of court.

‘But if it does get to court then it can take a while to go through.

‘The biggest payments tend to be for brain-damaged baby cases.

‘This is because the person will require lifetime care and so a payment needs to match that.

‘And with the cost of care rising, the payments become higher.

‘If it’s a really big case then the person might get a lump sum of £2m straight away then get around £150,000 a year for the rest of their lives.’

The table on the right shows some of the areas in which compensation claims have been successful in the past five years.

Joint highest with general surgery is orthopaedic procedures, which is mainly to do with the bones and muscles.

‘Orthopaedic procedures is generally where a person has gone in for elective surgery and something goes wrong,’ says Mr White.

‘This means they are relatively healthy but their quality of life has been zapped and they can’t do all the activities they wished to do.

‘This can be with older people who want to enjoy retirement.

‘Big payouts are for catastrophic surgical disasters.

‘Smaller claims can be for being discharged from the A and E department too early or mixed X-rays.’

Trusts around the country pay the Litigation Authority a premium each year – similar to car insurance.

This is added to a pot of money held by the authority, which then makes the compensation payments.

In the last financial year Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust paid £7.1m into the pot.

The figure varies year-on-year depending on the number of claims against a trust, the number of full-time staff working and the number of registered births.

The NHS Litigation Authority also looks at risk assessments carried out at each trust.

Portsmouth NHS Hospitals Trust says it always aims to learn from any mistakes it makes and takes claims seriously.

A spokesman said: ‘The amounts paid by the NHS Litigation Authority on behalf of NHS trusts will vary from year to year depending on the number and circumstances of claims.

‘A payment made in 2009 could relate to an incident that occurred some years previously.

‘For instance complicated claims can take a long time to resolve, so there is no direct correlation between the amount paid in a particular year to clinical activity within that year.

‘All claims against NHS trusts for clinical negligence are handled by the NHS Litigation Authority.

‘All trusts pay an annual “premium” under the Clinical Negligence Scheme for Trusts and that premium is the limit of each trust’s financial exposure.

‘Any complaint or claim made against Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust is always fully investigated to enable a report to be produced and an action plan to be put in place to address any shortcoming that may have been identified.

‘The learning for the organisation that results form these complaints and claims is shared throughout the organisation so as to try and avoid a similar occurrence.’

Other cases that have previously been reported in The News include a man being awarded £6.74m in damages after he almost died while donating a kidney to this father.

Councillor Peter Eddis, chairman of the health and overview scrutiny panel at Portsmouth City Council, said: ‘The sums seem high, but it’s not something we have looked into before.

‘Of course the money could be spent on health needs.

‘The question is to make sure there are few human errors.’