Devon's ambulance service has paid out millions of pounds in medical negligence claims over the last 12 months.

The South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) provides ambulances services for an area of around 10,000 square miles, including the whole of Devon, Bristol, Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire.

A freedom of information request by Legal Experts has revealed the trust has paid more than £3 million in negligence claims from July 2022 to July 2023 – six times more than its counterpart trust in the south east of England.

The trust said that the payouts included two historic claims and it was working hard to ensure patient safety at all times.

Medical negligence occurs when a healthcare professional provides substandard care to a patient that falls below the standard expected of any healthcare professional.

A claim may arise if the patient subsequently suffers unnecessary or avoidable harm.

SWASFT received a total of 454 contacts by complainants between July 2022 and July 2023, with 624 areas of concern being raised (since many complaints were and are multifaceted).

Of the 624 areas raised by complainants, 292 related to “perceptions of poor or substandard clinical care”.

In total, the trust dealt with 22 medical negligence claims from July 2022 to July 2023 – with the total amount paid out being £3,075,209.40.

This is six times higher than the £498,756 paid out by South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, which covers north-east Hampshire, Kent, Surrey and Sussex.

NHS Resolution, which handles medical negligence claims on behalf of NHS trusts, has revealed that negligence payments have risen by 9.9 per cent from 2021/22 to 2022/23.

Nick Banks, head of medical negligence at JF Law, said patients should not worry about making a claim against hospital trusts for fear of diverting funds away from front-line services.

He said: “As well as the obvious emotional impact, injuries and bereavements can cause a bigger financial impact than many households can bear, particularly in the current cost of living crisis, when many are already struggling to make ends meet.

“While some people understandably worry that making a claim will affect front line care, the reality is that hospitals and GPs are always insured against such claims.

“As such, any damages owed are paid by the insurers, and do not affect the care other patients are receiving.”

SWASFT has said the 22 claims received were “not all successfully litigated” and the payouts include “two historical, long-running claims” that were settled during this time period – one from 12 years ago, the other from seven years ago.

A spokesman said: “Every day, we manage an average of 2,650 incidents. Patient safety is our number one priority.

“Along with all other trusts, we regularly review our clinical practices to ensure that we learn and continue to improve the care that we provide.”