ALMOST £14m in damages was paid out last year following serious mistakes in care at Dorset County Hospital, figures reveal.

Someone can bring a claim against an NHS trust if it is believed they, or a family member, suffered harm or died due to negligent treatment.

Data from NHS Resolution, which handles such cases on behalf of the NHS, reveals 26 clinical negligence claims against Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust were successful in 2019-20. Some of these claims were as far back as 2012.

A total damages bill of £13.9m was paid out in relation to these claims over the year, while further legal costs totalled £667,240.

Overall, NHS Resolution was notified of 33 formal negligence claims against Dorset County Hospital in 2019-20.

Of those reported, five were related to obstetrics – care provided during pregnancy and childbirth.

Successful claims against the trust were up 63 per cent compared to the 16 reported in 2018-19, when £783,515 was paid in damages.

The Clinical Negligence Scheme for Trusts, administered by NHS Resolution, handles all negligence claims against members for incidents which happened after April 1 1995. This means claims could be settled for harm which occurred years before.

Trusts pay into the scheme on a pay-as-you-go basis to cover the bill due each year.

A spokesperson for Dorset County Hospital said: “Every day a million people are treated safely and successfully in the NHS. However, in some cases there are unexpected outcomes for patients which result in unintentional harm being caused.

"When incidents do happen we are committed to fully investigating the events to ensure lessons are learnt and measures are put in place to prevent a re-occurrence of an incident as far as possible. If we identify that we have caused harm and there is a shortfall in the care provided, we are open and honest about what happened.

“In some cases these incidents result in formal litigation against the Trust. The number of cases going forward to formal litigation have remained relatively stable. However, it is acknowledged that costs have increased in line with national increases. A number of claims that have been settled during 19/20 are historical claims dating back to 2012 and there has since been significant improvement in our services.

“We actively try and settle claims at an earlier stage in the process to ensure the patient and their families are not involved in a lengthy process, as well as achieving faster resolution for them. This also reduces the cost of legal expenses on both sides. We do share the learning outcomes from these investigations across Dorset and through national reporting systems. The Trust also work closely with NHS Resolution to help drive improvement in patient safety and fully participate in the schemes for learning.”

In a report, Ian Dilks, chairman of NHS Resolution, said the price of negligence across the NHS remains "the elephant in the room" despite the overall cost of harm for clinical negligence falling to £8.3 billion nationally, down from £9 billion in 2018-19.

He said: "We continue to play our part in reducing the cost of claims through actions to improve both patient safety and the way incidents and complaints are handled but, as a National Audit Office report published in 2017 concluded, any strategy to tackle the drivers of cost will need to include legal reform.

"We hope that through reform, a way can be found to significantly reduce the cost to the public purse at no detriment to justice."

In January, the Government is due to publish its review of a consultation on fixed recoverable costs – the amount of money the winning party of a claim can request from the losing party – for claims less than £25,000. Recoverable legal costs for clinical negligence claims are currently uncapped.

Earlier this year, the Medical Defence Union, which provides support and advice for doctors, dentists and other healthcare workers, warned the number of claims against the NHS could increase following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr Michael Devlin, the union's head of professional standards and liaison, said: "Every example of negligence takes its toll on the patients and families involved, but the compensation being paid out puts enormous pressure on NHS funding, especially at a time when the NHS needs to recover from the pandemic."