BHR Trust defends rise of legal actions in maternity care

�Legal claims against maternity units at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (BHR) went up by a third from 2009 to 2010, latest figures reveal.

Claims against BHR cost the NHS �3m in damages paid out to patients who had problems in maternity wards in the financial year 2009/10.

Figures obtained by a national newspaper under a Freedom of Information (FOI) request show BHR, which manages Queen’s and King George Hospital, Goodmayes, was the subject of 31 lawsuits against its maternity services in 2010.

Legal action

Responses to the FOI requests showed there were 92 cases of legal action in 2010 across the capital – although some trusts would not provide information.

In 2009, maternity units at BHR were the subject of 24 legal cases.

Complaints against maternity units at BHR which did not result in legal action were also up – in 2009 there were 68 complaints and in 2010, complaints which didn’t result in legal action totalled 76.

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A spokesman for BHR said: “The trust has one of the largest maternity units in the whole country.

“We would therefore expect to have a relatively high number of claims.

“It is disappointing that the number of claims is rising, but this is mirrored across the country.

“We take the safety of all of our patients extremely seriously, and have invested strongly in maternity services in recent months to improve levels of care.

“The trust has introduced new systems and employed 60 extra midwives to ensure that women are given the best possible care in our hospitals,” he added.

Senior partner for Harman and Harman Solicitors, Sarah Harman, has dealt with, and is still dealing with, a number of legal claims which she said have been “flooding in” against the BHR Trust and particularly Queen’s Hospital, including the case of mother Saira Choudri who complained she was turned away from hospital just before haemorrhaging when in labour last year.

Ms Harman said: “I have been contacted by dozens of women complaining about Queen’s. It’s very distressing to hear the dreadful time they say they have had.”

At the same time she blamed the complaints procedure for being inadequate and a contributing factor to the increased number of claims which she estimated would be even higher next year if something is not done about it.

Ms Harman said: “A number of these women have, before they’ve got to me, made complaints to the hospital and they’ve barely been dealt with.”

She recalled one woman who waited eight months for a response when in fact she should have been contacted in 21 days.

Ms Harman said: “If the Trust wants to avoid these legal claims then it must deal with patients’ complaints.”

She said she would be writing to the Care Quality Commission in light of its investigation into concerns over maternity care, as reported in last week’s Recorder, to highlight this and added: “A lot of the cases I get are not legal claims but they are viable complaints. The CQC needs to look at the Trust complaints procedure and improve on it. It’s something the Trust can do without spending vast amounts of money and it is something they owe to patients.”