Compensation paid to NHS patients rockets

Payout: The family of teenager Laura May received a seven-figure payout from the NHS
Payout: The family of teenager Laura May received a seven-figure payout from the NHS
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Compensation payments to NHS patients have more than doubled in a year - rocketing from £7.5m to £18.5m.

Official statistics show hospitals, primary care and mental health trusts in Lancashire shelled out nearly £11m more in 2011/12 than in 2010/11.

The total figure is the highest on record and more than the trusts’ combined payments in 2009/10 and 2010/11 added together.

Lancashire Teaching Hospitals, which runs Royal Preston Hospital and Chorley and South Ribble Hospital, paid out £13.1m, compared to £4.3m in 2010/11.

This included a seven figure sum paid to the family of Chorley teenager Laura May, who was left paralysed from the chest down following an operation to correct a curvature of her spine in 2005.

The trust also paid out a multi-million pound settlement to another unnamed family after their child was born with cerebral palsy due to a mismanaged birth.

University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay, which runs sites such as Royal Lancaster Infirmary, paid out £4.8m, compared to £3.1m in 2010/11.

The biggest percentage increase was seen by Lancashire Care, which provides community and mental health services, and paid nearly £363,000 - a 413 per cent increase on £70,720 the year before.

North Lancashire Primary Care Trust forked out £67,878, a 390 per cent increase on £13,860 in 2010/11, and NHS Central Lancashire paid out £97,762, a 279 per cent increase on £25,799 in 2010/11.

The NHS Litigation Authority, which handles negligence claims made against NHS bodies, said the amounts consisted of legal fees and damages to victims of medical and other less serious blunders.

A leading medic blamed no-win, no-fee lawyers for whipping up compensation claims and called for an investigation.

Dr Kailash Chand, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association, said: “How many operations and nursing staff would this cash pay for?

“It’s basically money down the drain and a complete waste, especially when the NHS is under massive strain and budget pressures.”

But Trevor Ward, head of medical negligence at Lancashire solicitors Linder Myers, which secured Laura May’s compensation, said the NHS should be more transparent.

He said: “Medical negligence cases involve a long investigation process and often take years to conclude.

“It’s difficult to say why there has been such a significant increase in the value of settlements in this period.

“The NHS is not as transparent as we would like it to be and it is under increasing pressure with regular headlines regarding the level of negligence taking place in our hospitals.

“We have certainly seen an increase in medical negligence enquiries coming into our Lancashire office during the same period.”

Gill Edwards, partner and clinical negligence specialist at Manchester solicitors Pannone, said it only pursued the strongest cases and that claims were judged by independent experts in the NHS.

She said: “We had one very large settlement from Lancashire Teaching Hospitals in that period which involved a person with cerebral palsy and such a large payment can sometimes skew the figures.

“With cerebral palsy often you get a lump sum awarded and then yearly, periodical payments for care.

“I was a nurse myself originally so I have an empathy with medical professionals and understand the stress and strains they work under.

“But I think sometimes what the general public and the media miss is how hard these cases are to prove.

“We have to be able to say that the care fell below such a low standard. It is a high hurdle.”

The payouts are covered by a form of central insurance fund.

The NHS Litigation Authority collects contributions depending on its ranking of the organisations and rising payouts can affect a trust’s future contributions.

Both hospital trusts were rated last year as ‘level one’ trusts, meaning they receive a 10 per cent discount on their insurance. The maximum rating is level three and gives a 30 per cent discount.

They said they were unable to provide details of the claims.

Karen Partington, Lancashire Teaching Hospitals’ chief executive, said: “The amount paid in compensation can vary from one year to the next for a number of reasons, but we are unable to provide details about specific claims as these relate to individual patients.

“We are fully committed to providing excellent care with compassion, and are continuously striving to improve standards.”

Jackie Daniel, University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay’s chief executive, said: “There are many different reasons why the payment figures change from year to year.

“It is important to remember that these figures relate to the year the claim was settled, not necessarily the year the incident took place.”

Lancashire Care said in-year payments often related to claims arising in much earlier years.

However, a spokesman for the trust said: “Since June 2011 the trust has more than doubled size after taking on the provision of community services across Lancashire, including a wide range of health and wellbeing services such as community nursing, health visiting and physiotherapy.

“As a direct result of this it is likely that the levels of compensation payments have increased since this period.”

A NHS Central Lancashire spokesman said its average annual spend on compensation was “usually in the region of £20,000”.

A spokesman from NHS North Lancashire said: “The average annual spending which is paid out by the NHS Litigation Authority relating to North Lancashire PCT clinical claims is £70k per annum.

“However, even a single claim could increase this annual spend significantly.”