Medical Errors in Lincolnshire

The Lincolnite reported last week that Lincolnshire hospital medical errors cost the three Lincolnshire hospitals under the United Lincolnshire Trust umbrella. Lincoln, Boston and Grantham £40 million pounds in out-of-court settlements in the two financial years between 2018 and 2020.

They obtained the information through a Freedom of Information request. Failures and delays with treatment and diagnosis were among the most common areas of failure and this certainly accords with the findings of our clinical negligence team and the work they are doing.

Interestingly, the information provided was for out of court settlements only, as fewer than 5 cases actually went to Court, so NHS Resolution did not provide this information. This could reflect the fact that (at last!) the NHS is considering earlier settlements in appropriate cases, or that they are turning the corner with negligence issues and there are just not so many cases to go to Court. If so, both of these are to be applauded.

Dr Kate Wood is quoted by The Lincolnite as saying:

Unfortunately, there are times when things go wrong, and when this happens it is important for us as a Trust to do everything we can to put things right.

Part of this process is settling damages to fairly reflect the consequences this has had on our patients and their families. However, this is only one part of a much bigger picture; as a Trust we are committed to learning from our mistakes to ensure that they are not repeated.

The figures show that 118 claims amounting to £16,284,524.00 in damages and legal costs were paid out in 2018/19. This is an average of roughly £138,000.00 per claim, but that appears to include costs. In 2019/20, £23,554,516 was paid out for 125 claims, an average of roughly £188,436.00. on the same basis.

However, it should be noted that the majority of clinical negligence claims do not attract huge sums by way of damages. But when something does go very badly wrong and results in catastrophic injuries such as brain damage or tetraplegia, then damages are very high indeed, into the millions and this will distort the averages, both in damages and the legal costs involved in investigating and settling such claims.

 

What type of Medical Errors were seen in Lincolnshire Hospitals

The Lincolnite says that when the 118 claims for 2018/19 were broken down by injury. 21 were listed as ‘unnecessary pain’, 17 were for orthopaedic injuries, 17 for fatality and 16 for additional or unnecessary operations. This is often where the first treatments have gone wrong and remedial treatment becomes necessary. Of the 125 claims for 2019/20, unnecessary pain was again the highest, with 36 claims. There was also a further 14 for fatalities.

Over £34 million in damages and more than £13.7 million in legal costs were paid to Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust’s patients and families between 2018 and 2020. The trust runs hospitals in Grimsby, Scunthorpe and Goole.

The most common areas paid out for during that period were failure/delay diagnosis, fail/delay treatment and inadequate nursing care.

It seems that common reasons patients were offered financial settlements included failures or delays to treatment and failure or delay of diagnosis.

We have definitely seen an increase in delays and failures to diagnose over the past few years. These figures are also pre-Covid, so we are expecting to see more of this, possibly particularly in cancer treatments, which can rely on an early diagnosis for a successful outcome to treatment.

 

Why do Medical Errors happen?

There are a number of reasons for this, leaving aside the extra problems caused by Covid in getting to see patients. We see a lot of what we call “system failures”. This is where appointment letters get missed, or not sent out, or there are cancellations for various reasons, staff shortages, equipment failures, that sort of thing. Patients can and do just get “lost” in the administrative maze that is the NHS. It is difficult and sometimes impossible to even get an appointment with a GP to get something checked, which can lead to a missed or late diagnosis.

We are concerned about being perceived as the “worried well”, but the problem is we are not doctors and we can’t make the distinction between a benign mole and the start of malignant melanoma, for instance.

TV adverts encourage us not to ignore symptoms such as a persistent cough which could be the first sign of cancer. But is this counter-productive in that it leads to a surge in calls to the GP who then cannot cope with the numbers?

GP’s do not necessarily have to follow up referrals once made, but they probably should if the patient contacts them saying it’s been a while and they’ve not heard anything. Sometimes patients are asked to chase up appointments themselves, but my personal best at doing that for myself recently was being 18th in the telephone queue, with my worst 31st. I did wonder whether anyone ever did get through!

Because of the numbers, appointments can be rushed and so something is overlooked, plus staff can be stressed with what they have to get through every day and lose concentration.

But to be fair, we do also have to note the number of missed appointments with GP’s and the NHS. It is very important that if you do have an appointment that it is kept. This is not only for your own sake, but because you may have prevented someone else being seen and a diagnosis missed.

Nevertheless, we believe that it is a false economy in the NHS to ignore this rising trend.

If you can’t get through on the phone, you can’t get an appointment in the first place. Thus, when you do get seen, your condition may be more difficult to treat and take longer, which costs more. It may be thought that more staff is unaffordable, but this has to be balanced against the extra costs of prolonged and more complex treatments, plus longer recovery periods and longer to get back to work.

To say nothing of the compensation figures for missed or delayed diagnoses.

This is not us as lawyers looking for different avenues of work. The information comes from the Trusts themselves and we can only deal with the problems that come through our door.  At the moment, we can only see this problem increasing.

The full article is here:

https://thelincolnite.co.uk/2021/06/lincolnshire-hospital-mistakes-cost-40m-in-out-of-court-settlements-in-two-years/

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