Data obtained via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request indicates the total cost of successful clinical claims closed (or settled as a PPO) against the NHS in 2016/17, where one of the causes was the failure to diagnose, a delay in diagnosis or a wrong diagnosis was almost £288M.

The FOI request by Jeanette Whyman, Head of Clinical Negligence and Personal Injury Group at law firm Wright Hassall, shows a total of 1511 claims were made across a number of injury categories, ranging from unnecessary pain to joint damage.

Commenting on the figures, Whyman said: “The statistics offer a very broad brush picture and will range from very clear failures to those cases that are technically difficult.

“For example, cases can be very obvious such as a missed shadow on a chest x-ray which should have been noted as potentially cancer to cases where the condition is rare and more difficult to diagnose (but nonetheless should have been investigated).

“The simple cases are very often what the NHS categorises as, ‘never events’ which are classified as adverse events that are serious, largely preventable and concerning for both the public and healthcare providers for the purpose of public accountability.

“These incidents should never occur and will have strict protocols around them, typically with a tight system of reporting which should ensure the ‘event’ doesn’t happen.

“And usually it doesn’t, but any procedure is only as good as those that do or do not adhere to it. It is difficult to see what more can be done to ensure these do not occur save for regular training of staff involved in these procedures.

“Where these incidents lead to claims, they are generally plain to see and should never be defended.

“Those cases which are more complicated, warrant more investigation and are often difficult to predict or legislate for. Again, it is almost always human error which has led to the problem through an individual’s lack of experience or often pressure of work.

“The expectation of a faultless system may be an expectation too high, given the lack of funding for the NHS, which can translate into a lack of staff, reduced training and poorer facilities.

“It should be recognised that the figure of 1511 cases is a tiny percentage of the number of patients passing through the NHS, which is roughly 1 million every 36 hours. But if you or a family member is the subject of one of these incidents, however rare they are, it’s a disaster.

“The care delivered by the NHS is exemplary for the vast majority of patients throughout their lifetime, but it is important not to take anything away from those who were on the receiving end of the poor care.

“Whilst some successful claims relate to less serious outcomes, a late diagnosis of a life-ending illness is catastrophic for the patient and their family. It is only right they receive appropriate compensation for the suffering they have endured.”

About the author

Jeanette Whyman Partner

Jeanette is head of the medical negligence team. Having worked previously for Hospital Trusts, Jeanette has extensive knowledge of hospital practices and procedures. This means that she is able to assess a case speedily and to anticipate the other parties' position – this enables her to put forward the best possible case on behalf of her client.