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£40m bill to settle health service blunder cases sparks alarm

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 19/11/2015

Concerns: Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson
Concerns: Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson

More than £40m was paid out in the last year after catastrophic errors in Northern Ireland's health service.

The number of negligence cases is on the rise, with 752 new cases in the 12 months to April.

Allegations about diagnosis and treatment account for around half of all complaints, according to a report by the Department of Health.

The costs will cause alarm at a time when the health service is facing severe pressures.

It would eat up most of the £47.6m allocated yesterday to the Department of Health to ease demand on the system.

Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson expressed alarm.

"Given the worryingly high £41.4m cost of medical negligence cases last year and the potential for higher costs this year, I am concerned that this new funding had already been swallowed up by the health service before it was even announced," she said.

Medical negligence is defined as a breach of duty of care by health professionals.

In the 12 months to April, a total of £41,353,781 was spent on cases with the majority (£30.1m) paid out in damages. The rest - £11.2m - went towards legal costs.

Almost a third of the £41m was paid by the Belfast Trust - Northern Ireland's largest health trust.

Just 30% of cases taken resulted in compensation being awarded.

A total of 3,061 cases were in the system at any stage during 2014/15 - an 11.3% rise compared to five years ago.

The average case was open for around two-and-a-half years.

Of the cases in the system last year, 1,395 of them were within the Belfast Trust.

The majority of Northern Ireland-wide cases related to treatment (1,046) and diagnosis and tests (712). Other complaints were linked to operations (286), pregnancy and childbirth (282) and the level of support and care patients received (223). In some cases, compensation awards can run to millions of pounds.

Last December the Belfast Trust paid out £8m in compensation in what was described in court as a "landmark" settlement to a severely disabled teenager after his family sued it for medical negligence.

It initially contested the case before later admitting liability.

The settlement is believed to be one of the biggest of its kind in Northern Ireland.

The Department of Health said the compensation awards represented a small number of the 15 million interactions each year between patients and the health service. This includes 1.5 million outpatient attendances and 700,000 treatments at A&E departments.

A spokesperson added: "The department is committed to providing high quality, safe and effective health and social care services to all patients and clients across Northern Ireland.

"The treatment and care provided to the overwhelming majority of people is of the highest quality.

"On occasions, things do go wrong and when they do, it is right that people are compensated appropriately.

"It is also essential that lessons emerging from the investigation and analysis of serious incidents are identified and applied across the health and social care sector, with the overall aim of minimising the risk of occurrence."

Belfast Telegraph

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