£45m compensation bill for Morecambe Bay’s health trust

Royal Lancaster Infirmary.
Royal Lancaster Infirmary.

More than £45million has been paid out to victims of mistakes made by Morecambe Bay’s health trust over the past five years.

It has also paid out hundreds of thousands of pounds for claims made more than 20 years ago, new figures have revealed.

University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust (UHMBT) paid out a staggering £45,010,836 in damages, defence and claimant costs to patients or families of patients who were the victim of medical mistakes between 2012 and 2017.

It has been ranked 52 out of 260 trusts for the amount it has paid out.

It also paid out £648,869 for historic mistakes made before April 1995 during the same period.

Dr David Walker, medical director at UHMBT, said: “When things go wrong, it is important that patients and their families are listened to, that we recognise their concerns, apologise for any suffering caused, and act to prevent repeated mistakes.

“It is also right that people receive compensation and financial support when mistakes have had a serious effect on their lives.”

He said that claims against NHS Trusts are handled by the NHS Litigation Authority, which manages “risk pools” for claims, and this spreads the cost of claims over time.

Speaking about patient safety at the trust, Dr Walker added: “UHMBT commissioned the Patient Safety Unit (PSU) in February 2016 to look into all patient safety issues, these include mortality, harm, morbidity, falls, MRSA, CDT, deaths and any untoward events which may have an impact on patient outcome.

“The work undertaken by PSU and the feedback to teams, and action plan enacted by divisions has resulted in significant reduction in falls, fracture from falls, MRSA, CDT and more than 20 per cent of all-cause mortality in HSMR and SHMI (national mortality indicators) in recent months. PSU continues to work with governance team to improve quality of care and outcome.”

In the past five years, the Department of Health has paid out £152m, including legal fees, to victims of mistakes made before April 1995 in England. Hospital failings during childbirth account for more than two-thirds of this cost.

Reasons for money still being paid out for historical cases include the fact that legal battles can take many years, new claims are still being received for decades-old incidents, and sometimes, assessments about a child’s life-long care needs can only be made when they are older. Historically, cerebral palsy claims were often paid as a lump sum but families are now more likely to receive annual payments throughout the child’s life.

The figures handed to the Lancaster Guardian from a BBC investigation come from NHS Resolution, formerly known as the NHS Litigation Authority, in England.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “Our relentless drive to improve patient safety, including an ambition to halve the rates of neonatal deaths, stillbirths, maternal deaths and brain injuries caused during or shortly after labour by 2025, 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.”

A spokesperson for NHS Resolution said: “Incidents in maternity account for 10 per cent of the number of claims we receive each year but 50 per cent of the expected cost of the claims.

“This is because of the very high cost of cases which tragically involve brain damage at birth where provision must be made for life-long and complex care needs.

“Whilst thankfully, these incidents are very rare, each one offers an opportunity for learning in order to prevent the same thing happening again.

“Our recent report, ‘Five years of cerebral palsy claims’, made recommendations for action which achieved wide consensus and commitment from those involved in maternity care.

“Next year (2018) we will be offering an incentive payment of up to 10 per cent of a trust’s maternity premium for those who can show that they have implemented 10 maternity safety actions, as set out in the Maternity Safety Strategy.”