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Negligence cases cost health service £50.4m last year

By VICTORIA O'HARA

Cases of clinical and social negligence have risen by 5%, costing the Department of Health £50m in one year, new figures have revealed.

A legal bill totalling £50.4m has been paid on the 3,315 cases across Northern Ireland during 2012/13.

The figures released by the Department of Health also revealed almost a fifth – 565 – of cases had been treated in the Accident and Emergency departments.

This was a 4.8% rise since 2010/11.

It also reported £18.7m was paid out for cases involving obstetrics – the care of pregnant women – with £15.1m paid on damages to patients.

Overall, £37.2m was awarded in damages and £13.2m paid out in legal costs.

As of March 31 this year, 579 new cases were opened, 529 cases were closed and 150 cases were settled.

Over a quarter (955) of cases were referred to treatment.

A spokesman for the department said there are a variety of reasons why there has been a rise in negligence cases.

This includes people being more willing to challenge the system and healthcare professionals when services are below standard.

And having a better system of reporting problems.

Health Minister Edwin Poots said he had "every confidence" in the staff delivering health and social care services to the people of Northern Ireland.

He said his main priority is the quality and safety of health and social care services.

"In cases where things go wrong, our primary responsibilities are to provide support and assistance to the people affected and their families and to ensure that lessons are learned," he said.

"It is only right and proper that those who are affected should be compensated."

Mr Poots said attendances at hospital each year include 1.5 million outpatient attendances, over 700,000 treatments at A&E and around 500,000 in-patient cases.

"The overwhelming experience of people using our health and social care services is positive."

The minister added: "I have every confidence in the staff delivering health and social care services to the people of Northern Ireland.

"They are a caring, well- trained, highly motivated and regulated group of staff seeking to provide the best possible level of care to patients and clients and, overwhelmingly, they are successful in doing so."

The figures come after it emerged Northern Ireland's health service spent more than £146m on legal costs and compensation over the last four years.

Belfast Health and Social Care Trust spent the most on legal proceedings, paying out around £5m each year since 2010/11.

Earlier this month, Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister raised the issue of health service negligence payouts in the Assembly.

"Of course, anyone with a legitimate claim against a trust must be compensated, but why is the trend so much upwards?

"Is there increasing negligence? And why are legal fees almost as high as the payouts?" he said.

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