Report says NHS spends £700 on negligence cover for every birth in England

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Posted 08/11/2013

The BBC reports today that according to a National Audit Office review, the NHS spends nearly £700 on clinical negligence cover for every live birth in England.

The review said that last year this cost nearly £500m – almost a fifth of all spending on maternity. Margaret Hodge, Public Accounts Committee chairwoman, said the figure was “absolutely scandalous”.

The NAO also pointed to a shortage of midwives and consultants on labour wards. The report stated that a further 2,300 midwives are required, though their distribution across England varies substantially. Although it said the level of consultant presence has improved, over half of maternity units are not meeting the recommended standards. 

The Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives, Cathy Warwick, said the report backed up what the college had been saying for a long time. “We are many thousands of midwives short of the number needed to deliver safe, high quality care. Births are at a 40-year high and other figures out this week show that this is set to continue. As the report states, births are also becoming increasingly complex putting even more demands on midwives and maternity services.”

Clinical negligence claims for maternity have risen by 80% in the last five years. In 2012, the cost of cover was £482m, and the average payment per claim was £277,000.

Figures from the NHS Litigation Authority released last year showed the health service in England paid out more than £3bn in compensation claims linked to maternity care between 2000 and 2010.

One medical negligence claimant told the Today programme that the money had helped give his son a better quality of life. He and his wife did not claim for negligence until six months after the birth of their son, when they realised the costs involved in his care. Their son had been starved of oxygen during birth and now suffers from quadriplegic cerebral palsy, severe brain damage, visual impairment and epilepsy.

Julie Crossley, a medical injury lawyer at Ashtons Legal, comments: “This report sets out in stark reality the figures spent by the NHS on litigation and will come as a shock to the public I am sure. Given the reported shortage of midwives and doctors, I am certain most people would rather the NHS were spending money on training and recruiting staff than paying for errors caused partly as a result of staffing levels or because of poorly trained or supervised staff.”


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