A trust in special measures is facing collective legal action from more than a dozen patients and families. It comes amid allegations of systemic failure which contributed to poor care, HSJ has learned.

  • Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust faces group legal claim from patients
  • Unusual claim groups together 17 cases that each include claims of systemic failure
  • Trust says patient care and staffing levels have improved in recent years

Lawyers for 17 separate families and patients save said if the case against Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust is successful, it could pave the way for group actions against other NHS trusts where systemic failures play a role in poor care.

The legal action is based on a number of allegations in 17 cases between 2007 and 2013 that all include claims of systemic failure. It is unusual for the cases to be grouped together and for the claim to rest on the systemic failures claimed in the specific cases.

In court documents, clinical negligence firm Leigh Day said these claims collectively show the trust’s “failure to take reasonable care to ensure that there was a safe system of healthcare provided at [Queen’s Hospital]”.

The documents said this includes failure to provide sufficient numbers of suitably trained nursing staff and failure to supervise those staff and to ensure adequate records.

However, trust chief executive Matthew Hopkins told HSJ that while the cases date back to 2007, Leigh Day referred to requirements and regulations that came into force in 2010 under the Health and Social Care Act 2008.

An attempt by the trust to have five of the cases thrown out was rejected by a High Court judge in March.

Among the allegations are:

  • 13 cases involving poor provision of nutrition and fluids;
  • eight cases of patient falls;
  • five incidents of problems with pain management and pain relief; and
  • three cases of poor bowel management.

Three cases include allegations of a failure to protect against infection; two involve problems administering medication; and two include pressure sore management.

Emma Jones, a solicitor at Leigh Day, told HSJ taking a group claim against a trust was unusual but that the trust had refused to meet with it to discuss the complaints.

Royal Courts of Justice

A High Court judge rejected the trust’s attempt to have five of the cases thrown out

She said: “The systems at this trust broke down. The issues that are being raised by these cases are incredibly important. We are talking about fundamental issues of NHS trusts making sure they have enough staff; that those staff are competent and are completing documents and records; and that the trusts have systems in place to make sure people are given enough to eat and drink.

“We felt it was imperative to do something to try to ensure these issues were taken seriously. And [a group action] was the way we thought we might be able to do it.”

Mr Hopkins said: “These cases date back as far as 2007, although the firm of solicitors, who appealed through the local media for people to contact them with allegations, are referring to requirements and regulations which came into force in 2010 with the Health and Social Care Act [2008].

“Unfortunately, in some of these cases patients have not raised their complaints with us, so we have not had the opportunity to investigate their concerns and respond directly to them.”

Mr Hopkins said high quality care was a priority for the trust and its nurse staffing levels complied with national standards.

He added: “We have a 1:8 ratio of nurses to beds, and a nursing fill rate of around 95 per cent.

“We have invested heavily in increasing our nursing establishment over the past two years. Recent [Care Quality Commission] reports have shown improvements in patient care, and we are spending £1.4m to recruit an additional 80 nurses this year.”