NHS compensation to misdiagnosed patients rises to £98 million

NHS payouts to patients whose conditions were misdiagnosed by medics increased by three-quarters in the last year to nearly £100 million.

Compensation paid to people whose illnesses were not spotted or were detected too late soared from £56 million in 2009-10 to more than £98 million in 2010-11.

Nearly one in ten of the 1,204 successful cases brought against NHS trusts last year related to health staff failing to diagnose cancer, figures released by the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) in response to a Freedom of Information request show.

The number of successful misdiagnosis claims increased by nearly 80% in the five years from 2006-07, when there were 681 claims resulting in compensation totalling just under £50 million.

Ministers have blamed “no-win, no-fee” conditional fee agreements for a sharp rise in the cost to the NHS of defending and settling legal proceedings brought for negligence.

In January Ken Clarke, the Justice Secretary, hit out at the “extraordinary” increase in payments to lawyers acting for medical negligence victims.

The biggest single misdiagnosis payout since 2006 was £4.1 million, although there were another eight cases where the damages were more than £2 million, the NHSLA figures show.

These are typically cases where the patient was permanently disabled and will need costly care for the rest of their life.

The largest compensation sum paid for a cancer diagnosis mistake was £959,000, with a further 12 payments of £300,000 or more.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “Unsafe care will not be tolerated in a modern NHS. The vast majority of the millions of people seen by the NHS every year do get good quality, safe and effective care. However, if patients do not receive the treatment they should and mistakes are made, it is right that they are entitled to seek compensation.

“It is truly regrettable that an extremely small minority of cases lead to patients being negligently harmed and any compensation paid is based upon the individual circumstances of each case.”