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Mistakes at Dorset County Hospital cost £13.9 million in compensation claims

NHS helicopter landing near hospital
Photo: John Cameron

NHS Resolution, who handle claims on behalf of the NHS, released data which shows that £13.9 million was paid out last year as compensation for medical negligence – serious mistakes that occurred while a patient was in care at Dorset County Hospital in Dorchester.

A clinical negligence claim can be made against an NHS trust if the person or next-of-kin suffered harm or died due to negligent medical treatment.

The total damages bill for Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust was made up of 26 successful claims (out of 33), totalling £13.9m over the course of a year, plus additional legal costs of £667,240.

Every day a million people are treated safely and successfully in the NHS. However, in some cases there are unexpected outcomes for patients which result in unintentional harm being caused.

When incidents do happen we are committed to fully investigating the events to ensure lessons are learnt and measures are put in place to prevent a re-occurrence of an incident as far as possible. If we identify that we have caused harm and there is a shortfall in the care provided, we are open and honest about what happened.

In some cases these incidents result in formal litigation against the Trust. The number of cases going forward to formal litigation have remained relatively stable. However, it is acknowledged that costs have increased in line with national increases. A number of claims that have been settled during 19/20 are historical claims dating back to 2012 and there has since been significant improvement in our services.

We actively try and settle claims at an earlier stage in the process to ensure the patient and their families are not involved in a lengthy process, as well as achieving faster resolution for them. This also reduces the cost of legal expenses on both sides. We do share the learning outcomes from these investigations across Dorset and through national reporting systems. The Trust also work closely with NHS Resolution to help drive improvement in patient safety and fully participate in the schemes for learning.

Dorset County Hospital spokesperson

Large increase and historical NHS claims

The £13.9m bill for a one-year period in 2019-20 is a 63% increased compared to the £783,515 of total claims made in 2018-19.

NHS Resolution oversees the Clinical Negligence Scheme for Trusts, which handles incidents that occurred after 1st April 1995. This means that claims can be made and settled for incidents that happened several years ago.

Trusts, such as Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, pay into the scheme to cover the costs each year.

The national situation with NHS compensation claims

The cost of all NHS claims have fallen to £8.3 billion nationally, down from £9 billion in 2018-19, but Ian Dilks, chairman of NHS Resolution, calls the price of claims “the elephant in the room”.

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.

Ian Dilks, chairman of NHS Resolution

The Government is due to publish their review of a consultation on fixed recoverable costs, which is the amount of money the winning party can claim from the losing party when the claim is less than £25,000. Recoverable legal costs for clinical negligence claims are currently uncapped.

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.

Dr Michael Devlin, Medical Defence Union
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