Editor's Viewpoint: Medical blunder bill demands action now
Many people will be surprised and dismayed at the amount of money expected to be paid out by the health and social care sector in the five years until April 2017, to settle claims.
It is estimated at £393.5m, a whopping 56% up on the total for the previous five years. That works out at an average of £215,000 a day lost to front line services.
It is evident that more complaints are being made about treatment and potential medical negligence and it is proper that people should feel empowered to seek legal redress.
But it is shocking that legal action can drag on for so long, adding immensely to the expense. The NI Audit Office report shows that 317 cases took five to 10 years, another 49 had been pending for 11-15 years and 21 pending for more than 15 years. To most people that is inexcusable.
It is a long established fact that health and social care institutions can be reluctant to admit when staff are to blame if things go wrong, and that the protracted legal wrangles are therefore inevitable.
Medical professionals deal with an incredible array of conditions on a daily basis, and the complexity of modern medicine means that errors are, if not inevitable, probable. It also must be acknowledge that the vast majority of people working in this highly charged environment do a marvellous professional job, saving lives and restoring thousands of others to health.
But the sheer size of the medical blunders bill means that health trusts must put more rigorous checks in place to ensure they have the best trained staff and the best equipment they can afford to allow them to do their jobs.
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The absence of an Executive at Stormont means there is not sufficient pressure on trusts to maintain standards.
As the Audit Office points out in one example, a warning issued six years ago has not yet been acted on. Concerns were raised about the way locums were recruited and appointed. That report said the use of locums was expensive and carried the potential for risks to patient safety. Astonishingly, there has been an unsustainable rise in the number of locums used.
The health service needs to be reconfigured and streamlined as per the 2016 Bengoa Report which cannot be implemented because of the lack of a health minister. Here is proof that the absence of political input is costing our most vital service huge sums of money and, potentially, lives.