Trusts face £80m negligence bill
Health trusts have spent more than £80 million on negligence cases in Northern Ireland, new figures have revealed.
Most of the money, almost £61.4 million was paid out in compensation while £20 million went towards legal costs.
Last year health trusts across the region spent £37.2 million on compensation with another significant chunk of the cash - £13.2 million - allocated to legal fees.
Kieran McCarthy, a GP who sits on the Stormont health committee, said: "That is absolutely unbelievable. It is just horrendous."
According to the figures published by the Statistics and Research Agency , over £38.1 million went towards funding negligence cases in obstetrics departments across the region with £30.1 million being paid out in damages.
Dr McCarthy, MLA for Strangford, said he believed the money could be better spent elsewhere.
He added: "That is money that is being paid out for clinical negligence. It could be used to keep the Downe Hospital; Bangor minor injuries unit and many other facilities open.
"This goes on year after year and there doesn't seem to be any improvement.
"It is something that the minister and the senior officials in the Department of Health are going to have to seriously look at. Why is this happening?"
There were a total of 3,376 legal cases open during 2013/14 - an increase of 61 (1.8%) from 3,315 during 2012/13
These included 588 negligence cases arising from incidents in under-pressure accident and emergency units, a further 568 in general surgery and 360 at trauma and orthopaedics departments.
Last year over a quarter of the cases (955) referred to treatment including incidents where medical assistance was delayed; inappropriate treatment was given; or when staff failed to recognise complications.
Although the Department of Health will see its funding increased as part of the draft 2015/16 budget, it is having to implement a raft of hard-hitting measures in order to balance the books for this year.
These include the closure of dozens of hospital beds and minor injury units in Counties Down, Armagh and Antrim as well as drastic changes to domiciliary care which unions claim heap added pressure on accident and emergency departments and could lead to further delays in treatment.
Dr McCarthy said he feared the cuts could result in a spike in negligence claims.
He said: "I suspect a lot of this is down to the extreme pressure that these professional people are under.
"When they are under so much pressure to get results, perhaps mistakes can happen.
"Something has to be done about this colossal sum because we may see more mistakes."