£21m...the payout to victims of Northern Ireland hospital blunders in just one year
Compensation awarded to victims of medical blunders in Northern Ireland has almost doubled in the past four years, it has been revealed.
The bill for 2012/13 topped £21m, with £60,000 a day handed out to people affected by hospital errors. It was part of a near £40m legal bill run up by health trusts and agencies in the last year. The cost for this year is likely to be even higher with a big hike in the number of high-value cases settled.
In total, the health service spent £146m on legal proceedings during the past four years.
The figures were disclosed by Health Minister Edwin Poots following an Assembly question from the TUV's Jim Allister.
The North Antrim MLA said he was "astounded" by the spending levels – and questioned why the bill has soared by 60% since 2009.
Mr Poots revealed:
* Compensation payouts by the five health trusts and Health and Social Care Board totalled £21,503,712 in the 12 months to April this year.
* Around a third of that, £7,426,362, related the Belfast Health Trust.
* The total has risen by 80% compared to £11.9m spent on compensation during 2009/10.
* Legal costs added a further £17,471,522 to the bill last year, contributing to a total of £38,975,234.
* That cost has risen 55% from £25,228,020 in 2009/10.
The Belfast Telegraph has learned that the number of cases settled has risen by 45% in the past four years. Some 220 cases were dealt with during 2012/13 compared to 151 in 2009/10. Already this year 108 have been settled with 14 having a payout greater than £500,000.
A number of high-profile medical negligence cases have been concluded recently.
Mr Allister branded the expenditure as astounding.
"Of course, anyone with a legitimate claim against a trust must be compensated, but why is the trend so much upwards?"
A Department of Health spokesman said legal cases are now being expedited.
"The level of compensation paid in settled cases varies considerably depending on the individual circumstances of each case," he said.
"Determining the amount of compensation payable in a personal injury claim is a judicial decision. The judge alone will have access to the medical evidence and hear from the injured party. Every attempt is made to manage the costs of legal cases."
Dr John D Woods, the vice-chair of the British Medical Association in Northern Ireland, said the payouts could impact on patient care.
"Clearly these are very large sums of money; we have to recognise that inevitability high compensation payments reduce funds available for direct patient care," he said.
"The current adversarial system is slow and this information reveals that it is expensive with costs forming a high proportion of the total.
"The first step is to concentrate on ensuring all care is of the highest quality so mistakes are minimised.
"Second, it may now be appropriate to examine whether no-fault compensation offers a less adversarial system for compensating patients who have suffered loss, or injury as a result of healthcare treatment."
2009/10: 151 cases settled, including two for £500,000+
2010/11: 184 cases settled, including eight for £500k+
2011/12: 192 cases settled, including eight for £500k+
2012/13: 220 cases settled, including eight for £500k+
2013/14 to Sept: 108 cases settled, including 14 for £500k+