Millions paid out by NHS maternity unit after "avoidable" medical mistakes


Over the past year the maternity department at Ipswich Hospital has been instructed to pay some £4.5m compensation, highlighting "serious concerns" for patients' safety.

The payouts were in respect of claims made after infants had died or suffered brain damage or other disability, or where medical mistakes had caused injuries to women during labour.

Stressing its serious concerns about safety, training and hospital management, The Patients' Association said NHS funds should be used to improve care instead of paying for mistakes , especially in light of high, government-imposed efficiency savings.

5 new obstetrics claims were reported against the Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust in 2011-12, while payments of £4,354,000 were made by the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) on behalf of the Trust.

This total, thought to cover settled claims dating back several years, reflects a rise of some 167% on 2010-11, when £1,627,000 was paid.

Last year, clinical negligence compensation payouts for errors made across the entire Trust totalled £5,962,979: almost twice the previous year's total of £2,938,174.

Every year, UK hospitals pay money into the NHSLA to cover any claims settled against them. Nationally the cost of medical mistakes in NHS maternity wards has exceeded £420m, almost doubling in the last year.

Ipswich Hospital said only a small number of claims in respect of the maternity unit were received each year. "The sums of money awarded tend to be relatively high as they often include a lifetime's care needs," said Jan Ingle, a spokesperson for the Trust.

"We work very closely with the NHS Litigation Authority and the claimants' solicitors to make sure that all medical negligence claims are progressed in a timely manner.

"The need to assess the long-term needs of the child is usually why it takes a long time to settle the claim."

The chief executive of The Patients' Association, Katherine Murphy, said increasing compensation payments by any trust raises serious concerns for patients' safety, the training of clinicians and hospitals' senior management.

"Given the financial pressures on the NHS, with the government driving through £20bn in efficiency savings, funding must be spent on improving standards of care, not on compensation after mistakes have been made," said Ms Murphy.

"These deaths and errors are avoidable, for example by maternity units around the country having staffing numbers that will ensure the highest quality of patient care and safety."

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