The £30m Price Of Medical Negligence

Almost £30m has been paid out to patients across Northern Ireland who took medical negligence cases against health trusts in the past five years, it emerged today.

And that figure could be drastically higher because it does not include legal costs or 1,600 cases still pending.

DUP Assembly member Michelle McIlveen said she had deep concerns about exactly how much money has been involved in settling and dealing with negligence cases after she questioned the Department of Health on the matter.

Alliance Party health spokesman Kieran McCarthy branded the cost involved as “staggering” and highlighted how “better spent the money could be on patient services”.

They were both reacting to figures released by the Department in response to one of Miss McIlveen’s written Assembly questions.

According to the figures, a total of £29,918,000 was paid out to patients by the province’s 19 health trusts, which have since been reduced to five, since the beginning of the 2001/02 financial year.

That cash covered a total of 239 cases either settled or successfully chased by patients – an average pay out of around £125,179 per case. Of the 2,280 actions launched overall, 441 were thrown out.

Significantly, however, there are still 1,600 cases against the health trusts, stretching back the same five year period, which have not yet been concluded or settled. Some 217 of those date as far back as the 2001/02 financial year.

Money paid out on cases has also risen steadily over the years.

In 2001/02, £4.65m was paid to patients. This dropped to £3.64m the following year but rose again to £6.74m in 2003/04. A total of £7.25m was paid out in 2004/05 while £7.63m was given out in the 2005/06 financial year.

In a series of questions, Miss McIlveen also asked the Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey, to “detail the amount of money paid to legal representatives, for both the claimants and the trusts, in terms of claims for compensation for medical negligence”.

Mr McGimpsey replied: “Information in the form requested is not readily available and could only be obtained at disproportionate costs.”

Miss McIlveen said she was “greatly surprised” that the information could not be released.

“Almost £30m sounds like a large sum of money being paid out but that does not include administrative and legal costs for both the claimants and health and social care trusts,” she said.

Mr McCarthy said he was aware large sums would inevitably be paid out on medical negligence cases – but said he was “shocked” at the figures.

“The scale is really quite unbelievable. Something must be done to cut down on what must be a huge drain on resources. I’m sure the health trusts have a contingency fund to deal with these cases but it’s a shame that money couldn’t be used better on front-line patient services.”

Referring to the hundreds of dismissed cases, the MLA added: “I know we are living in a so-called ‘compo culture’ these days and I have every sympathy for the medical profession working under such pressure.”

The Department of Health said it plays no active role in the management of claims and litigation cases.

“Claims management is totally devolved to Health and Social Service Boards and Health and Social Care Trusts. They have responsibility for the management, processing, settlement and outcome of clinical negligence claims. They instruct their own solicitors with whom they contract directly, and they obtain advice from defence counsel chosen in liaison with instructed solicitors,” a spokeswoman said.

She also said that “every effort is made by hospital staff to ensure that the highest standards of care are provided to all patients”.

She added: “Over 2.5 million patients are cared for in Northern Ireland hospitals each year. Inevitably there will be a small number of occasions, particularly in emergencies involving critically ill patients with complex needs, where problems occur.

“The Department is keen to ensure that cases of clinical negligence are kept to a minimum and that those who have suffered harm as a result are properly compensated for it.”