Barts Health NHS Trust runs up £118m medical blunder bill

Newham University Hospital

Newham University Hospital - Credit: Archant

Medical failings stretching back more than two decades cost the NHS trust which runs Newham University Hospital tens of millions of pounds a year.

Barts Health NHS Trust shelled out more than £118 million to victims of blunders over the past five years – more than any other trust in the UK.

Research by the Newham Recorder, in partnership with the BBC, found medical negligence claims cost the NHS a whopping £6.2 billion between 2012 and 2017, a third of which went on legal fees.

Experts warn pressures on the health service will only increase as lawsuits eat away at public funds.

The health service’s negligence claims bill has quadrupled in 10 years to £1.6bn in 2016-17, with a Public Accounts Committee inquiry warning in November it risks “spiralling out of control without effective action”.

The government is proposing a cap on the fees claimants can recover in low-value cases, a move Peter Walsh of Action Against Medical Accidents says “will make it impossible for some would-be claimants to find a solicitor prepared to take on the case”.

Figures from NHS Litigation Authority, which deals with claims for NHS trusts, show the trust’s payout pot was £31.6m in 2016-17, up £10.1m (47 per cent) from the previous year.

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Damages amounted to £21m of this sum, with £2m in defence costs and £8.5m in claimant costs.

Incidents that occurred before April 1995, which the Department of Health pays for under its Existing Liabilities Scheme, racked up a further bill for £4.6m from 2012-13 to the last financial year.

“We prioritise the safety of patients and although we care for the vast majority of patients without any adverse outcomes any mistake is one too many and we are committed to learning from incidents,” said a spokeswoman for Barts Health.

“This data does need to be seen in context, with Barts Health receiving a proportionate number of claims as the biggest NHS trust in the country.

“We have one of the lowest mortality rates in the country, and our specialist hospitals [...] aim to treat a large number of high-risk patients which other hospitals cannot.

“This is all in London’s East End with a higher-risk population meaning many patients are predisposed to complications, and includes Newham which has the highest number of pregnancies in London.”

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “Our relentless drive to improve patient safety [...] will help to reduce traumatic and costly safety failings in the NHS and ensure better protection for patients.

“We’re ensuring taxpayers’ money is spent effectively by taking action against law firms creaming off excessive legal costs that dwarf the damages recovered – but we’re also clear we want to ensure patients continue to access justice at a reasonable cost.”

Rising life expectancy and a “change to the court discount rate” had increased costs resulting from historic claims, said an NHS Resolution spokesman.

“From April 1, this changed and NHS Resolution is now involved right from the start in order to improve the support for families and the healthcare staff involved in these rare but tragic incidents and to speed up resolution,” he added.