The NHS is a much-loved institution of the British public and for good reason. Since its formation in 1948, it has served Brits, keeping them healthy, bringing new lives into the world and supporting those at the end of their lives.
However, when things go wrong, they can be devastating for those who are affected. Cases of medical negligence can be incredibly serious and when a medical practitioner makes a mistake or breaches their duty of care, it can have dire consequences for the patient.
Every year, claims are made against the NHS in cases of medical negligence, but how common are these claims and what specialties are most likely to have a claim brought against them?
The most common specialties for claims
In the period of 2020/21, there were 12,629 clinical claims made against the NHS, a 133% increase from the 2006/07 number of 5,426.
Other - 4,295 claims
The ‘other’ category may refer to claims made against General Practitioners or any other specialty that is not identified in the listed specialties. With 4,295 claims in 2020/21, this is the most common category for claims. The number of claims has increased dramatically since 2006/07 when there were 1,103 claims made.
Orthopaedic surgery - 1,256 claims
Orthopaedics relates to the musculoskeletal system, so surgeries can range from treatment for spinal diseases to broken bones from sports injuries. In the most recent reporting period, this was the second most common specialty for claims, accounting for nearly 10% of all claims with a total of 1,256.
Emergency medicine - 1,152 claims
Emergency medicine is essential, providing treatment to those who have experienced accidents and health events that pose an imminent danger. With 1,152 claims during 2020/21, emergency medicine accounts for 9.12% of claims.
The most expensive specialties for claims
In the period of 2020/21, the total cost of claim payments was a huge £2 billion, a 273.4% increase from the 2006/07 cost of £582 million. This figure not only accounts for the money awarded to claimants but also the legal costs of both the claimant and the NHS.
Obstetrics CP/BD - £688 million 2020/21 payments
Obstetrics refers to the treatment given in pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period, with CP/BD referring to when the injuries of Cerebral Palsy or Brain Damage appear as one of the three primary injuries. These injuries can occur when a baby does not get enough oxygen due to a compromised blood supply during the birthing process. With more than £688 million paid out during the 2020/21 period, these claims account for 32% of the total amount paid out.
Other - £285 million 2020/21 payments
General practice as well as other more niche specialties fall into the ‘other’ category, accounting for 13% of the total payments totalling £285 million in one year alone. With a total of 4,295 claims in this period, the average damages value for clinical claims in this category is £115,328.
Emergency medicine - £202 million 2020/21 payments
Ranking third in both the most common claims and the most expensive claims, emergency medicine accounts for 9% with £202 million in payment totals for 2020/21.
The specialties seeing the biggest increase in claims
Overall, clinical claims are on the rise with an increase of 133% from 2006/07 - 2020/21, but which specialties are seeing the biggest increases in claims?
Radiology - 376% increase
Radiology is the branch of medicine that uses imaging technology to carry out examinations and tests in order to diagnose and treat injuries and diseases. With 409 claims in 2020/21 compared to 86 in 2006/07, the rate has risen by 376%, perhaps due to an increase in the use of these technologies over the 15-year period.
Gastroenterology - 329% increase
Gastroenterology refers to medicine which deals with the digestive system, including the oesophagus, stomach and liver. There were 63 claims made in 2006/07 but this rose by 329% to 409 claims in 2020/21.
Other - 289% increase
With 4,295 claims in 2020/21, the ‘other’ category which covers general practice and other unspecified specialties saw a 289.39% increase in claims when compared to the 1,103 in 2006/07.
The specialties seeing the biggest increase in payment totals
We would all like to see the NHS able to spend their budgets on treatments, medical research and improvement of infrastructure. However, when mistakes are made and lives impacted by a failure of their duty of care, victims of medical negligence deserve appropriate financial compensation. Since 2006/07, the figure spent on payments and legal fees has seen a 273% increase with some specialties seeing a huge rise in payment amounts.
Ambulance - 1,698% increase
The ambulance service is vital, providing emergency care to members of the public experiencing serious health events or accidents. However, with a 176% increase in the number of claims over the past 15 years, there has been a huge 1,698% increase in the total cost of claims. In 2006/07, these claims cost a total of £771,409 compared to £13.86 million in 2020/21.
Gastroenterology - 1,186% increase
Jumping from a total figure of £2.4 million in 2006/07 to £30.88 million in 2020/21, gastroenterology saw a 1,186% increase over 15 years. The 329% increase in the number of claims made largely accounts for this rise.
Radiology - 1,138% increase
With radiology seeing the largest increase in the number of claims, it is no surprise to see such a huge increase in the total cost of payments and legal fees for these claims. The 1,138% increase takes the figure from £5.7 million in 2006/07 to £70.55 million in 2020/21.
All data is taken from the NHS Resolution claims annual statistics and refers to claims from 2006/07 - 2020/21.