Justice for patients – or compensation culture?

Worcester News: PAYOUT: Sidney Ashford suffered a brain injury after a string of hospital mistakes. 50161401 PAYOUT: Sidney Ashford suffered a brain injury after a string of hospital mistakes. 50161401

CLINICAL negligence claims relating to poor care at Worcestershire hospitals cost the NHS £3.5 million last year alone.

Such claims are a source of division between those who say they achieve some measure of justice for patients and their families over botched care and those who see them as symptoms of a growing and insidious “compensation culture”.

Figures supplied to your Worcester News by the NHS Litigation Authority include damages, defence costs and claimant costs as part of the Clinical Negligence Scheme for Trusts.

A freedom of information request to Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust shows that the highest payments involved obstetrics (female reproduction and maternity) with claims of £289,797 settled in 2011/12, which related to three cases over five years at Worcestershire Royal Hospital in Worcester.

Nationally, claims relating to obstetrics are associated with higher levels of compensation than other specialties.

The 2011/12 figures show that claims related to care provided by the trust resulted in overall payouts of £3.49 million of which £1.89 million was damages, £494,000 defence costs and £1.11 million claimant costs.

The amount paid out has fluctuated quite substantially – the figures for the years between 2003 and 2011 are £4.31 million, £1.5 million, £1.99 million, £2.01 million, £2.45 million, £4.87 million and £6.28 million.

The money can help pay for practical support for meeting the demands of future care if, for example, medical negligence has resulted in disability. We reported in 2006 how the family of 12-year-old Daniel Groves of Evesham won £4.75 million in compensation after lawyers established the liability of the GP and midwives working for the Worcester Royal Infirmary NHS Trust, now Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust. Because he was deprived of oxygen at birth Daniel was born with cerebral palsy, confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak. The money was used to pay for a new bungalow with specially widened wheelchair-friendly doors and multi-sensory equipment, an electrically-powered chair, a specialised bath and to fund carers for Daniel.

The courts decided that Daniel’s disability could have been prevented had a doctor or midwife realised his mother had developed diabetes during pregnancy.

In December 2010 we reported on Sydney Ashford of Grange Avenue, Bevere, near Worcester, who secured a substantial out-ofcourt settlement after he suffered a permanent brain injury following a catalogue of hospital errors. Mr Ashford had to wait more than two years for a cancerous kidney tumour to be diagnosed and treated. When he was finally operated on, complications during surgery led to a main vein being cut.

Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust admitted liability for the delay in treatment but has refused to accept the way the bleeding was handled was negligent after the 2006 surgery.

Dr Richard Taylor , a retired hospital consultant and the former Wyre Forest MP, said: “If complaint handling was better, litigation costs would go down. It is when people are hopelessly dissatisfied with the complaints procedure that they go to law.

Going through the official complaints process, you get bland apologies and no answers.”

Robin Walker , Worcester’s MP, said: “Clearly there are some absolutely legitimate claims and there has to be a scheme to support people where there has been clinical negligence. No matter how good clinical staff are, there will always be some problems and mistakes. The concern is we don’t want to get into a culture where people automatically claim and are encouraged to claim by claim companies who create a compensation culture.”

Penny Venables, chief executive of Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, defended the trust’s handling of complaints.

Mrs Venables said: “Everyone at the trust is committed to providing a high quality of care for all our patients. The fact that while we treat more than 2,000 people every day but receive less than two complaints a day and considerably more compliments is a testimony to how seriously and how well our staff take patient care, safety and experience. We actively seek patient feedback – good or bad – because it helps us know how where we’re performing and how we can improve our services.

“Where this standard of care does not meet expectations, the trust investigates and where necessary implements new policies and procedures to ensure that any errors are not repeated.”

The costs of the NHSLA scheme are met by NHS trusts paying membership contributions, with the amount it pays dependent on its specialities and the number of staff it employs.

Discounts are available to those trusts which achieve the relevant NHSLA risk management standards and to those with a good claims history.

Mrs Venables said: “Our continued efforts to drive quality and safety mean we have achieved and maintained a Level two discount [out of three] in our maternity services since 2006.”

 

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