Jeremy Hunt exposes damning toll of lawsuits against NHS

The £1bn cost of maternity blunders: Jeremy Hunt exposes damning toll of lawsuits against NHS

  • Jeremy Hunt reveals more spent on lawsuits than pay for England labour doctors
  • The NHS had a £2.4billion bill for legal fees and compensation in 2018/19 
  • Three quarters of hospitals refuse to publish reliable data on avoidable deaths

Blunders on maternity wards are costing the NHS nearly £1billion a year, the former Health Secretary warns today.

Jeremy Hunt has revealed that almost twice as much is spent on lawsuits following poor care of mothers and babies as on the combined pay of all the labour doctors in England’s hospitals.

The expenditure was part of the health service’s astonishing £2.4billion bill for legal fees and compensation in 2018/19. 

A nurse is pictured taking a video of a premature baby to send to the baby’s parents in Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey

Mr Hunt, now chairman of the Commons health select committee, also uncovered figures showing three quarters of hospitals are refusing to publish reliable data on the number of avoidable deaths of patients in their care – three years after he ordered them to do so.

He highlighted research showing up to 150 lives are being lost needlessly every week in NHS hospitals. Writing for the Mail today, he described this as ‘appallingly high’. 

In a damning verdict of the system he once led, Mr Hunt says the scandal is widespread, affecting babies, mothers in labour, teenagers with mental health issues and dementia sufferers.

He is particularly worried about the needless harm in maternity services – and through a freedom of information request obtained figures showing that £952million was paid out in litigation and compensation associated with the sector in 2018/19.

Jeremy Hunt is pictured visiting St George’s Hospital in Tooting, west London in 2017.  As Health Secretary in 2017, Mr Hunt ordered trusts to publish data on the number of avoidable deaths in hospitals – calling it the ‘biggest scandal in global healthcare’

By comparison, the combined salaries of all obstetricians and gynaecologists working in the health service in England came to £586million. In total that year – the latest for which figures are available – the NHS paid out £2.4billion on litigation, up £137million on the previous year.

Referring to the stark difference in the figures, Mr Hunt writes: ‘Something has gone badly wrong.’ 

As Health Secretary in 2017, Mr Hunt ordered trusts to publish data on the number of avoidable deaths in hospitals – calling it the ‘biggest scandal in global healthcare’.

But freedom of information responses from a snapshot of 59 hospital trusts – about half of the total – found less than a quarter provided meaningful data on needless deaths.

Just 14 out of 59 hospitals were prepared to provide the data. Another ten claimed they had not had any needless deaths between 2017 and 2019 – including two major London teaching hospitals – which is statistically highly improbable.

A further 25 trusts reported they’d had less than five avoidable deaths over those three years which is also extremely unlikely. The remaining ten refused to publish any data at all with some claiming the information was ‘confidential’.

Mr Hunt, who served as Health Secretary for nearly six years from 2012 to 2018, believes that one of the key problems is staff failing to admit to their errors.

Last month the Mail revealed that one of the country’s largest hospitals was suspected of covering up baby deaths by failing to report suspicious cases to coroners.

East Kent Hospitals – which is at the centre of a major probe into maternity failings – referred just 24 out of 124 deaths over the past seven years.

Writing for the Mail, Mr Hunt cites ‘major cultural challenges’ which are deterring doctors and nurses from accepting blame, including preying lawyers ‘who get involved almost immediately’. 

Mr Hunt, who served as Health Secretary for nearly six years from 2012 to 2018, believes that one of the key problems is staff failing to admit to their errors

But he fears the deeply ingrained issues will be ‘forgotten too quickly’, unlike the coronavirus pandemic which is expected to prompt a major public inquiry and reforms.

Mr Hunt says: ‘We have appallingly high levels of avoidable harm and death in our healthcare system. In healthcare we seem to just accept it as inevitable.’ 

Mr Hunt also cited research from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine which found that 4 per cent of all healthcare deaths were potentially preventable, the equivalent of up to 150 deaths a week.

Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: ‘This ongoing lack of transparency over avoidable deaths is deeply concerning. A cover-up culture and lack of transparency have long been the NHS’s least attractive characteristics and should be addressed urgently.’

Peter Walsh, of the patient safety charity Action Against Medical Accidents, said: ‘It is scandalous so many trusts are not publishing their data about avoidable deaths.’

An NHS spokesman said: ‘Delivering the safest possible health service for patients is a priority and the national policy on learning from deaths is clear that hospitals must publish this information every three months, as well as an annual summary, so they are clear about any problems that have been identified and how they are being addressed.’

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