Unsafe maternity care has cost the NHS £8.2bn in 15 years

New data, obtained by The Independent from NHS Resolution, which handles clinical negligence costs for the service, reveals that total payments made following settled cases and legal costs rose from £271m in 2006-07 to an estimated £920m in 2020-21.

Negligent maternity care in the NHS has cost taxpayers an “eye-watering” £8.2bn over the past 15 years, The Independent can reveal.

Ministers face calls to urgently increase spending to ensure maternity units are safe for women and babies by providing adequate staffing levels, training and equipment.

The latest figure is equivalent to the starting salaries of more than 36,930 NHS nurses, while the total of £8.2bn over the past 15 years could pay for at least 13 new hospitals.

The number of maternity claims being made by families has almost doubled in the past decade, rising from 391 in 2009-10 to 765 in 2019-20.

In its latest annual report for 2020-21, NHS Resolution said the number of maternity claims made against the NHS represented only 11 per cent of the total, but accounted for 59 per cent of payouts, up from 50 per cent a year earlier.

Recent maternity scandals at the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust, East Kent Hospitals University Trust and at hospitals in Nottingham have all had common themes around poor culture, a lack of honesty and not enough staff or equipment.

The Department of Health and Social Care is exploring how it can make changes to the UK clinical negligence system to reduce the costs to the taxpayer. Health minister Nadine Dorries told MPs on the Commons health committee in February that the reforms would look “across the NHS… not just maternity, at how issues of no-blame, no-fault compensation and clinical negligence are treated”.

A report from the Commons health committee said the near £1bn compensation bill paid out in 2018-19 was almost twice the wage bill for all of England’s obstetricians and gynaecologists combined.

Suzanne White, a partner at Leigh Day solicitors, represented the parents of one brain-damaged child who received £37m in compensation in 2019, one of the largest payouts ever made.

In that case, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust admitted mistakes when the boy was born in 2013, which left him needing round-the-clock care for the rest of his life.

Ms White said the emphasis on clinical negligence costs by ministers was “back to front”.

She said: “The law is there to compensate people appropriately. To focus on how much that all costs once people have been injured is just the wrong way round. We will reduce the cost so much more if we have proper maternity care.

“At the moment, we’ve got maternity scandals day in, day out, which are pure evidence of the fact that our maternity units are just not up to scratch. They’re unsafe for mothers, unsafe for babies, and that is not acceptable.

“Why is everyone consumed with the cost of the damage when the damage itself should be the first priority? What will flow from that is cases will go down and costs will reduce.”

Jack Hawkins, whose daughter Harriet was stillborn as a result of failures in care at Nottingham University Hospitals Trust, told The Independent that investment in safety was only one part of the equation.

He and his partner Sarah brought legal action against the NHS after what they believe was a sustained attempt to cover up mistakes.

An investigation by The Independent and Channel 4 News in June revealed 46 cases of babies left with permanent brain damage and 19 stillbirths, as well as 15 deaths, at the trust since 2010.

Mr Hawkins, a former NHS consultant, said: “The money is eye-wateringly huge but is spent for a reason because people have been so horrifically harmed at the start of a life.

“We need to know for sure that these cases of negligence are not the result of not enough staff, and that needs investment. The government needs to step up.

“But the lack of resources should not excuse the poor culture and cover-ups and blaming of some families that we experienced in Nottingham, and that we know has happened in other units around the country.”

He told The Independent the couple may not have taken legal action against the NHS if the Nottingham trust had been open and honest from the outset.

NHS England invested £96m in maternity services in 2021, which included money for 1,000 more midwives and £26m for safety training. But this is thought to be substantially less than is needed.

MPs on the health committee have called for an immediate investment of £350m to ensure the safety of mothers and babies.

The Royal College of Midwives chief executive, Gill Walton, told The Independent this would equate to only a quarter of the annual spend on negligence claims.

She said: “We have a national shortage of almost 2,000 midwives in England alone.

“We know understaffing compromises safety, and this has been repeatedly highlighted as a significant issue in many recent reports into failed or failing maternity services by the Care Quality Commission and in other safety reviews such as the Shrewsbury and Telford Trust Donna Ockenden review.

“Midwives are frustrated because many are working in a system they feel is against them, they are desperately trying to deliver safe high quality care, but too many trusts and health boards are running with midwife vacancies, putting pregnant women and their babies at risk.

“That is why the RCM are calling on the government to listen to repeated recommendations that investing in more midwives and maternity staff is an investment in safety and this will improve outcomes for women and their babies.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *