Mum forced to return £330k payment for birth defect mistake

Deborah Mackay

Deborah Mackay, a 33 year old from Clapham in Bedfordshire, has been told she must repay almost half of a £705,000 payout she received after the NHS failed to spot that her unborn son had spina bifida. The health service is demanding she return the money because her son, Calum, died unexpectedly.

Can this be right? Can compensation payments be clawed back like this?


Mackay sued Bedford Hospital NHS Trust after Calum was born with spina bifida. She knew she was at increased risk because of the medicine she was taking for her epilepsy, so she had several specialist scans. The birth defect should have been picked up by them - giving her the choice whether or not to continue with the pregnancy. However, they assured her all was well.

The Mirror reported that The NHS Trust admitted it was at fault and agreed to an out-of-court settlement. The agreement was to pay £705,000 of interim payments, and then when Calum was 10 they would assess a final figure (estimated at £6 million). Mackay spent £450,000 of the money on a specially-adapted home and the rest on caring for her son.

Paid back

Calum was expected to have a normal life expectancy. However, he died suddenly from organ failure at the age of six in November 2011. Three months later Mackay received a letter from the NHS demanding £330,000 should be paid back. Their argument was that the money was for his care, and because he died so young, he does not need it. She told the Daily Mail: "It wasn't enough that I was grieving - I had just lost my son and then they pulled the rug out from under me again."

Mackay has been advised to sell her home to pay the NHS (which would leave her with just £75,000), but she cannot bear to sell the home she shared with her son. She told the Mirror: "Now I have lost him, and now I have to sell our house. It's all I have left of him."

Mackay and her solicitor are in negotiations with the NHS Trust. They face a deadline in July. A spokeswoman for the NHS Litigation Authority told the Daily Mail: 'The NHS Litigation Authority and NHS Bedford Trust appreciate this is a difficult time for Ms Mackay. We also have a responsibility to safeguard public funds, there are no plans currently to force a sale of this property."


Incidents when the NHS has been forced to pay compensation are shockingly common. The most recent figures are for 2011 - when £1.2 billion was paid out in compensation.

Fortunately, however, instances where they have asked for the money back are exceptionally rare. In fact, the occasions when any organisation demands a refund on compensation payments are few and far between.

It can happen where the compensation was subject to certain conditions, such as this case.

It can also happen when court action is ongoing. So, for example, there was the case of a woman in North Queensland was awarded $130,000 in damages after injuring her foot in a bungee competition. The appeal judge ruled that her evidence was confusing and implausible and she was made to pay the money back.

And even more unusually, it can happen when wrongdoing is unearthed. In one strange example in 2010 two women staged a car crash and conned £11,000 in compensation from insurers. Their duplicity was uncovered when one of them lost her job, and her former employer found a string of emails arranging the crash. The women were given suspended jail sentences and tagged, and they were made to pay the money back.

10 things we hate about our banks
See Gallery
Mum forced to return £330k payment for birth defect mistake

More than 46,000 of 106,000 the complaints received by the FOS in the second half of last year related to payment protection insurance (PPI). And the organisation is expecting to receive a record 165,000 PPI complaints in 2012/2013.

The huge numbers are due to the PPI mis-selling scandal that should now be a thing of the past, but there is no doubt that the insurance, which can add thousands to the cost of a loan, is highly unpopular!

(Pictured: Martin Lewis after the PPI payout ruling)

Complaints about mortgages jumped by 38% in the last six months of last year, the FOS figures show, compared to an increase of just 5% in investment-related complaints.

Common gripes about mortgages include the exit penalties imposed should you want to sell up or change you mortgage before a fixed or discounted deal comes to an end, and the high arrangement fees charged by many lenders.

While there is nothing in the data released by the FOS about the number of complaints relating to savings accounts, hard-pressed savers have been struggling with low interest rates for several years now.

You can get up to 3.10% with Santander's easy-access eSaver account, but many older accounts are paying 1.00% or less and even this market-leading offer includes a 12-month bonus of 2.60% - meaning that the rate will plummet to just 0.50% after the first year.

Banks are imposing the highest authorised overdraft interest rates since records began, with today's borrowers paying an average of 19.47%, according to the Bank of England.

A typical Briton with an overdraft of £1,000 is therefore forking out around £200 in interest charges alone. Coupled with meagre returns on savings, it's enough to make your blood boil!

While authorised overdrafts may seem expensive, going into the red without permission will cost you even more due to huge penalty fees.

Barclays, for example, charges £8 (up to a maximum of £40 a day) each time that there is not enough money in your account to cover a payment.

If you need to send money abroad, the likelihood is that your bank will impose transfer charges - and offer you a poor rate of exchange. Someone transferring a five-figure sum could easily lose out by £500 or more as a result.

The good news, however, is that you can often get a better deal by using a currency specialist such as Moneycorp.

Automated telephone banking systems, not to mention call centres in far-flung parts of the world, are one of our top gripes - especially as we often encounter them when we are already calling to report a problem.

In the words of one disgruntled customer: "What is it about telephone banking that turns me into Victor Meldrew? Well, maybe it's the fourteen security questions, maybe it's the range of products that they try to push or maybe it's because I'm forced to listen to jazz funk at full volume while my phone bill soars.

"Actually though, I think it's because the people I eventually speak to rarely seem able to solve the issue I'm calling about."

The days of a personal relationship with your bank manager are long gone - for the huge majority of us at least.

When ethical Triodos Bank investigated recently why around 9 million Britons would not recommend their banks to a friend or relative, it found that almost a third felt they were not treated as individuals. Another 40%, meanwhile, were simply disappointed with the customer service they received.

When you're in a rush, the last thing you want to do is wait in a long queue at your local branch.

Researchers at consumer champion Which? recently found that most people get seen within 12 minutes, but you could have a much longer wait if you go in at a busy time. Frustrating stuff!

The Triodos Bank research also indicated that the bonus culture that ensured the bank's high-flying employees received large salaries, even when it was making a loss at the taxpayer's expense, was hugely unpopular with consumers.

About a quarter of those who would not recommend their current banks said this was the main reason why. And with RBS executives sharing a £785 million bonus pool despite the bank, which is 82% publicly owned, making a loss of £2 billion last year, it's not hard to see why.


More stories
Read Full Story