Sunderland hospitals compensation call after £40million bill revealed

SUNDERLAND ROYAL: Calls to cut its compensation bill.
SUNDERLAND ROYAL: Calls to cut its compensation bill.
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A HEALTH body has called on bosses at Sunderland Royal Hospital to reduce the multi-million pounds of compensation handed out to patients who received sub-standard treatment.

In 2014, more than £7million was paid out on behalf of City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust to compensate patients and to pay legal fees in clinical negligence claims.

This is money that cannot be used for care of other patients at a time when the NHS is facing unprecedented demand

Dr Michael Devlin, MDU head of professional standards and liaison

The total figure shelled out in damages, to claimants and for legal defence since March 2008 is almost £40million.

The multimillion-pound litigation bill was met by the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA), which makes compensation payments on behalf of NHS Trusts, but the Medical Defence Union (MDU) today said the increasing costs of awards to the NHS can no longer be tolerated.

The trust, however, argued that costs had risen in recent years through increased litigation and inflation and that the organisation’s levels of safety are not any less effective.

Dr Michael Devlin, MDU head of professional standards and liaison, said: “Since 2008, around £40million has been paid to compensate patients and to pay legal fees as a result of negligence in Sunderland hospitals. This is money that cannot be used for care of other patients at a time when the NHS is facing unprecedented demand. We are facing a nationwide problem with the cost of clinical negligence claims.

“Claims inflation has been rising at a constant 10 per cent for the last few years and compensation awards are doubling in value every seven years.”

“Patients who have been negligently harmed need to be properly compensated so they know their health and social care needs will be met, but the NHS cannot continue to pay claims at this increasing rate. This is not a sustainable situation for the NHS or for taxpayers, who are footing these bills.”

Compensation awards can run to millions of pounds because defendant bodies like the NHSLA and the MDU are prevented from compensating on the basis that care will be provided by the NHS and local authorities.

In one NHS case, a child who suffered severe brain damage as a result of negligence at a hospital in another part of the country has been awarded compensation that could amount to £24million over her lifetime.

A spokesman for City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust said: “Medical negligence claims have obviously risen in the last few years throughout the NHS, not least due to increased litigation, claims inflation, and the scale of some payouts.

“This does not mean that our trust’s levels of safety and risk management are any less effective, but simply that the claims which have been met, involving a minority of cases, are greater in value than they used to be.

“Most patients are treated with greater skill and precision than ever before, and return home faster, with better outcomes.

“Of the well over half a million patients that we see every year, the vast majority attest to the highest levels of care and treatment, literally comparable with anywhere in the world.

“The trust consistently scores very highly for all aspects of patient care and quality of service.

“The levels of modernisation that have taken place in recent years have provided Sunderland with one of the best acute hospitals in the country, with a service provided by some of the most dedicated, professional staff, who have come to live and work in the area because of our reputation as a specialist centre of excellence.

“In such a hugely demanding environment dealing in matters of life and death, unfortunately from time to time things do go wrong, and although that is no comfort to those involved, we do try to learn from our mistakes in order to improve and develop our service.

“A recent “Perfect Week” multi-agency pilot that we ran last week, to monitor our systems and how we coped with the huge number of patients that we now care for (last week over 370 attendances in our emergency department (A&E) every day), was a highly successful learning exercise in how to constantly upgrade and develop our service so patients get through the system quicker, with better outcomes and an improved experience.”