Ex-minister blasts claim culture as health services pay out £30m
Blunders in Northern Ireland's health system cost almost £30m last year, a report has revealed.
The shocking figures emerged in a bulletin examining the cost of medical negligence.
The Department of Health report, which covers the 12 months to April this year, showed that three-quarters of the money (£21.2m) was paid out in damages for clinical/social care negligence cases. The remainder (£7.9m) was spent on legal fees.
With an average wait of 2.8 years to resolve a claim, there was a total of 3,995 cases open at any one time in this 12-month period.
These cases have so far racked up a bill of £138m, including £32m on legal costs.
Over the period, 704 new cases were opened, 789 were closed while 2,995 cases remained open and 211 were settled.
The annual spend has dropped by £12.1m compared to 2014/15, but the amount of cases open at any time has increased by nearly 400.
Former DUP Health Minister Edwin Poots said that while many cases were genuine, too many patients are being encouraged to start unnecessary claims against health trusts.
Sinn Fein MLA Pat Sheehan added that in some cases a lack of transparency from health authorities over mistakes had also added to the costs.
The report, published yesterday, defines negligence as "a breach of duty of care by members of the health and social care professions employed by (health and social care) organisations or by others consequent on decisions or judgments made by members of those professions acting in the course of their employment, and which are admitted as negligent by the employer or determined as such through the legal process".
The cost for 2018/19 broken down by area was:
- Belfast Trust - £15,230,342.
- Legacy HSS Boards - £3,989,029.
- Western Trust - £3,766,075.
- Southern Trust - £2,912,103.
- Northern Trust - £2,157,461.
- South Eastern Trust - £1,147,087.
- NI Ambulance/Blood Transfusion Service - £7,437.
Over half of cases (54.2%, 2,164) open in 2018/19 related to four specialities. Those were: Obstetrics (712), Accident and Emergency (670), General Surgery (413) and Trauma and Orthopaedics (369).
Mr Poots said all claims need to be scrutinised.
"There is a culture out there to make claims from health trusts and there's companies that specialise in it and advertise," he said.
"That includes cold calling people to do this. This is a major problem for health providers everywhere."
Mr Poots said it was still important to recognise genuine claims where "catastrophic harm has been done".
"I know that I received a phone call one day from a solicitor asking if I wanted to claim for bad treatment I received in hospital," he said.
"I absolutely devoured them on the phone, but there are some people taking them up on the offer.
"That is a problem that exists today. I always encouraged the trusts to settle things quickly to avoid and to not allow legal fees to pile up."
Mr Sheehan, a Sinn Fein MLA for West Belfast, said that efforts to address mistakes had not always been patient-centred, with a lack of transparency from health authorities making things worse in some cases.
"Often the emotional impact and trauma experienced by patients is greatest where health authorities have failed to accept their mistakes," he said.
"The HSC system must work towards a culture of openness and accountability.
"Negligence shouldn't be understood exclusively as a financial cost to the health budget but in terms of the value we place on an open and transparent health and social care system."
A Department of Health spokesperson said: "Budgetary provision is made each year for clinical negligence costs.
"The reality is that clinical negligence expenditure fluctuates each year. The department monitors clinical negligence expenditure levels closely each month.
"Clinical negligence issues are a reality in health systems across the world.
"Continuing focus on patient safety and governance is a highly important priority."