We reviewed all 1230 claims against anaesthesia notified to NHS Resolution (formerly the NHS Litigation Authority, 1995-2017) in England between 2008 and 2018. Claims were categorised by incident type, severity (whether physical or psychological), and cost, and comparisons were made against a similar published analysis of data from 1995 to 2007. While the annual number of claims against anaesthesia increased by 62% from the earlier period, anaesthesia now accounts for smaller proportions of all claims submitted to NHS Resolution (1.5% vs. 2.5%) and of the total cost of all claims (0.7% vs. 2.4%). The absolute costs related to anaesthesia claims rose over 300%, totalling £145 million between 2008 and 2018, but the mean cost per closed claim (retail price index adjusted) fell by 6% to £74,883. The most common clinical categories were regional anaesthesia (24%), inadequate anaesthesia (20%) and drug administration (20%). Claims related to airway management, central venous catheterisation and cardiac arrest remained infrequent but severe and costly. The proportion of claims relating to regional anaesthesia and obstetric anaesthesia fell significantly, but claims relating to peripheral nerve blockade doubled. Our analysis includes categories relating to organisational and human factors which are present in a substantial proportion of claims; categories with the highest mean cost per claim included delayed care, planning, monitoring and consent. Overall, the specialty of anaesthesia is at low risk of litigation. Our analysis provides important insights into current and changing patterns in claim distributions that may help improve the quality of patient care and reduce future litigation. We recommend the establishment of a structure for national review and learning from all cases of litigation.
© 2022 Association of Anaesthetists.