London NHS Hospitals are paying increasing amounts in damages to patients injured by avoidable medical errors according to figures released by the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA). Payments increased by nearly a quarter to £163 million in 2011/2012.
Nearly half was paid to seriously brain-injured babies following errors by maternity staff. Many of these will need a lifetime of care. Other awards concern cases where patients were left disabled or died as a result of negligent care.
The highest amount paid in compensations for negligence came from South London Healthcare NHS Trust (which went into administration recently after over-spending) whose bill was £16.6 million. Barking, Havering and Redbridge Hospitals NHS Trust had to pay £14.9 million, Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust £13.6 million and Lewisham Healthcare NHS Trust £11.6 million. Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs 5 hospitals including St Marys, Hammersmith and Charing Cross, paid £9 million.
However we should not jump to the wrong conclusions from these figures. It would be wrong for instance to assume that the highest paying hospitals are not as good as others. The costs of providing future care for life for serious injured people – whether babies or adults – can run into millions. Some of these hospitals will have paid sums of £5 million or more for the odd claim and one serious claim settled during the year can therefore skew the figures. Some of these Trust run centres of excellence. One of them, Kings College Hospital, said that the largest part of its payouts related to a small number of high value claims dating back several years.
Further we should not assume that people are becoming quicker to claim – the evidence suggests they are not. NHS London attributed the increase to the rising cost of treatment and the NHSLA in fact said that better and quicker reporting of incidents in hospitals had accelerated the rate of settlement. If that is the case any increase would represent a bulge in payments rather than a trend.
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