Safety pledge as hospital damages bill tops £3.5m

Hospital bosses in South Tyneside paid out millions of pounds in damages in the last year following serious mistakes in care, new figures reveal.

Monday, 21st December 2020, 10:04 am
South Tyneside District Hospital, Harton Lane

Data from NHS Resolution, which handles such cases on behalf of the NHS, shows South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust paid out £3.6m after 70 clinical negligence claims were successful in 2019-20.

Legal costs totalled another £576,860.

NHS Resolution also says it was notified of 90 formal negligence claims against the South Tyneside and Sunderland Trust in 2019-20, as well as seven further incidents which could result in a claim.

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Melanie Johnson

Of those, eight were related to obstetrics – care provided during pregnancy and childbirth.

Melanie Johnson, the Trust’s executive director of nursing, midwifery and allied health professionals, said: “Providing safe, compassionate care is our absolute priority and we are proud that the vast majority of our patients report a positive experience of care within our Trust.

“Patient safety is at the forefront of everything we do and we take our duty to act on incidents extremely seriously.

"Whilst no claim against the Trust is acceptable, we did see around a 30% fall in claims settled in 2019/20 compared to 2018/19. Our staff are actively encouraged to report incidents no matter how small and we promote a culture of openness and honesty so that on the rare occasion that an incident occurs, we can actively seek to learn and understand what went wrong and make any necessary improvements.”

People can bring a claim against an NHS trust if they believe they, or a family member, suffered harm or died due to negligent treatment.

NHS Resolution's clinical negligence scheme for trusts handles all claims against members for incidents which happened after April 1 1995.

This means claims settled in the past year could be the result of incidents which occurred years before.

Trusts pay into the scheme on a pay-as-you-go basis to cover the bill due each year.

In a report, Ian Dilks, chairman of NHS Resolution, said the price of negligence across the NHS was £8.3bn nationally – down from £9bn in 2018-19.

He said: "We continue to play our part in reducing the cost of claims through actions to improve both patient safety and the way incidents and complaints are handled but, as a National Audit Office report published in 2017 concluded, any strategy to tackle the drivers of cost will need to include legal reform.

"We hope that through reform, a way can be found to significantly reduce the cost to the public purse at no detriment to justice."

In January, the Government is due to publish its review on the amount of money the winning party in a claim can request from the losing party – for claims less than £25,000.

Earlier this year, the Medical Defence Union, which provides support and advice for doctors, dentists and other healthcare workers, warned the number of claims against the NHS could increase following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr Michael Devlin, the union's head of professional standards and liaison, said: "Every example of negligence takes its toll on the patients and families involved, but the compensation being paid out puts enormous pressure on NHS funding, especially at a time when the NHS needs to recover from the pandemic."