The Daily Telegraph

NHS faces £90bn payouts bill for maternity blunders

- By Laura Donnelly Health Editor and Ben Butcher

THE NHS faces a potential £90billion compensati­on bill for maternity failings, The Daily Telegraph can reveal ahead of a “harrowing” report into mistakes at East Kent Hospitals Trust.

Official figures show the number of claims has risen by almost a quarter in just two years, following a series of scandals. NHS Resolution data show 1,243 maternity negligence claims in 2021-22 – up from 1,015 in 2019-20.

Safety campaigner­s said the figures were “staggering” – with £90billion now set aside to cover the costs of claims.

It means that in total, 70 per cent of total liability provision for NHS negligence is associated with failings in pregnancy and childbirth.

The figure – equivalent to two thirds of the NHS annual budget – represents an estimate for the total costs if all claims it expects to settle were paid out, at today’s prices. Health officials said some of the trends reflected attempts to ensure cases were reported sooner, and changes in the way costs were calculated.

Today an independen­t inquiry into maternity care at East Kent Hospitals Trust will examine more than 200 cases. It follows a five-year fight for justice by Derek Richford, who yesterday told how he “came up against a brick wall” while searching for answers over the death of his grandson Harry.

An inquest into Harry’s death at Margate’s Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital in 2017 found it was avoidable and contribute­d to by neglect. Initially, the trust said the death was “expected” and failed to refer the case to coroners. Only the efforts of Harry’s family eventually brought his death to the attention of a coroner, who found the death was “wholly avoidable”, with a catalogue of errors made.

The trust was last year fined £733,000 for failures in Harry’s care.

Mothers have told how they felt “blamed” by the hospital for the deaths of their children, with concerns dismissed by medics. Today’s report is expected to say that women and babies were left at risk because the NHS failed to learn lessons from previous maternity scandals. Staff at the trust have been warned of “harrowing” findings, going back more than a decade, which left women in labour in deadly danger.

East Kent runs major hospitals, with its main maternity services at the Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Hospital and the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford.

Today’s report, led by Dr Bill Kirkup, is expected to expose a litany of problems, stemming from a culture that saw failings denied, and in some cases covered up.

The same obstetrici­an led an inquiry into the Morecambe Bay scandal, which in 2015 made sweeping recommenda­tions to improve maternity care across the NHS.

An NHS spokesman said: “Despite improvemen­ts to maternity services over the last decade – with significan­tly fewer still births and neonatal deaths – we know that further action is needed to ensure safe care for all women, babies and their families. The NHS is ensuring that work is already under way to make these improvemen­ts.”

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