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£160m spent on negligence claims

Published 26/05/2015

Kieran Donnelly, the Comptroller and Auditor General, said ensuring adverse incidents are reported is central to the learning process so potential harm to patients can be avoided (NI Audit Office/PA)
Kieran Donnelly, the Comptroller and Auditor General, said ensuring adverse incidents are reported is central to the learning process so potential harm to patients can be avoided (NI Audit Office/PA)

Health bodies have spent almost £160 million on negligence claims over the past five years, a new report has found.

The costs include compensation pay outs totalling £109.3 million plus defence costs of £12.3 million, according to the Northern Ireland Audit Office.

The anticipated liability of settling nearly 3,000 outstanding cases is also expected to reach about £121 million.

Kieran Donnelly, the Comptroller and Auditor General, said a culture of blame and widespread under reporting meant important lessons were not being learned.

He said: "Ensuring that adverse incidents are identified and reported is central to the learning process so that potential harm to patients can be avoided in the future.

"Changing the culture within the health and social care sector from one of fear to an eagerness to report, explain and learn from what went wrong will only happen through cultural change."

The payments relate to 970 clinical or social care negligence claims settled by the five health trusts and other organisations including the Ambulance Service and Public Health Agency over five years to March 2014.

Often they were taken as a result of adverse incidents.

In a two-year period to March 31, 2014, a total of 828 adverse incidents were reported to the Health and Social Care Board.

A total of 446 claims were settled, incurring costs of over £81 million.

Most of the incidents, 231, occurred within the Northern Trust which runs the Antrim Area and Causeway Hospitals

Poor performance was not confined to the under-pressure emergency department, the auditor found.

And a "turnaround team" appointed to address the poor performance identified 20 cases, including 11 deaths, where the quality of care and/or the response when things went wrong fell below expected standards.

There were a further 199 serious adverse incidents across the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust which is the largest of the five trusts.

The auditor reviewed the performance of the health and social care sector in a number of key areas including finance and waiting time targets.

In the review of procurement, the Audit Office found that in two years to March 2014 over 2,600 contracts were let without competition, with a value of just under £130 million.

Following allegations from whistleblowers, a serious lack of control within the Estates Department of the Northern HSC Trust was also identified. While the investigations did not reveal evidence of fraudulent activity, £5.7 million of potentially inappropriate expenditure was exposed and sufficient evidence was uncovered to proceed with disciplinary action.

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