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MLA Jo-Anne Dobson concern as medical negligence cases cost Stormont £95m

The Department of Health in Northern Ireland spent almost £100m on medical negligence cases last year, new figures have revealed.

And almost 700 new medical negligence cases were opened against Northern Ireland's health service.

In 2015/16, a total of 3,615 clinical or social care negligence cases were open at any point - 14.4% more than in 2011/12, according to statistics published by the Department of Health.

Dealing with the cases involved a total spend of £95.2m.

Of that, £71.1m was paid in damages and £24.1m paid in legal costs.

That £95.2m was not only spent in 2015/16, but includes spending from cases that were still open from previous years.

More than half of that cumulative spending - £50.9m - went towards obstetrics (childbirth cases) and 80.3% of that money was paid on damages alone.

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Last year saw 2,768 cases remaining open from previous years, 686 new cases opened, 639 cases closed and 206 cases settled by March 31.

UUP MLA and health spokeswoman Jo-Anne Dobson said she believes some of the cases have been drawn out.

"Unfortunately, I believe some of these could have been closed much earlier if the health service had admitted liability earlier in the cases it knew it was at fault, rather than unreasonably dragging the process out," she said.

Ms Dobson said the health service should emphasise patient safety and work to reduce instances of negligence in order to take care of the cases opening every year.

"Patients understandably expect to receive safe, sustainable and quality care at their time of need," she said. "It is a credit to our health staff that hundreds of thousands of people each year receive such care from the local health service, even under the growing pressures, and many thousands more receive impeccable care in social settings.

"I am concerned, however, that despite cases of medical negligence regularly receiving significant media and professional attention, as well as several policy initiatives from the Department of Health to try to reduce them, that there were so many reported cases last year.

"Whilst these sorts of cases can have a major financial cost, with tens of millions of ill-afforded health service funding being spent each year on compensation and legal fees, the human cost can actually be much more significant. Mistakes made in a medical setting can have life-changing consequences for the patient and their family so it is essential that such mistakes are avoided at all costs."

The figures were gathered from Health and Social Care Trusts, Agencies and Legacy Health and Social Services Boards for the year ending March 31.

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