Millions of pounds paid out in negligence claims against West Hertfordshire Hospitals
West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust manages hospitals in Hemel Hempstead, Watford and St Albans
Millions of pounds in damages were paid out last year following serious mistakes in care at West Hertfordshire Hospitals, figures reveal.
Someone can bring a claim against an NHS trust if it is believed they, or a family member, suffered harm or died due to negligent treatment.
Data from NHS Resolution, which handles such cases on behalf of the NHS, reveals 36 clinical negligence claims against West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust were successful in 2019-20.
A total damages bill of £6.5 million was paid out in relation to these claims over the year, while further legal costs totalled £637,637.
Successful claims against the trust were up 16% compared to the 31 reported in 2018-19, when £12 million was paid in damages.
The West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust has robust processes in place to help them learn from every incident.
Chief nurse Tracey Carter said: "Delivery of high quality care is always our top priority and the vast majority of the 750,000 patients we care for each year have a good experience with us.
"On the rare occasion something does go wrong, we say sorry and make sure we learn from what happened, involving patients and their families so we can make real and lasting improvements.
"In these circumstances, we work closely with NHS Resolution to ensure claims are resolved as quickly as possible for the families involved."
The Clinical Negligence Scheme for Trusts, administered by NHS Resolution, handles all negligence claims against members for incidents which happened after April 1 1995. This means claims could be settled for harm which occurred years before.
Trusts pay into the scheme on a pay-as-you-go basis to cover the bill due each year.
In a report, Ian Dilks, chairman of NHS Resolution, said the price of negligence across the NHS remains "the elephant in the room" despite the overall cost of harm for clinical negligence falling to £8.3 billion nationally, down from £9 billion in 2018-19.
He said: "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."
In January, the Government is due to publish its review of a consultation on fixed recoverable costs – the amount of money the winning party of a claim can request from the losing party – for claims less than £25,000. Recoverable legal costs for clinical negligence claims are currently uncapped.
Overall, NHS Resolution was notified of 42 formal negligence claims against West Hertfordshire Hospitals in 2019-20, as well as eight further incidents which could result in a claim.
Of those, eight were related to obstetrics – care provided during pregnancy and childbirth.
Earlier this year, the Medical Defence Union, which provides support and advice for doctors, dentists and other healthcare workers, warned the number of claims against the NHS could increase following the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dr Michael Devlin, the union's head of professional standards and liaison, said: "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."