NHS Mistakes cost Wales £335m

Medical mistakes in Wales have cost YOU more than £335m in the past seven years, we can reveal. That is the figure the NHS has been forced to pay in compensation and legal fees for botched operations and dodgy diagnoses since the National Assembly was set up. In the past year alone, NHS trusts and local health boards have paid out a total of £37m, including more than £1.2m in lawyers’ fees.

The cash is paid out by the Welsh Risk Pool, a body given a lump sum from the Assembly’s health budget, funded by the taxpayer. The figures were revealed in a written answer from Health Minister Brian Gibbons to Plaid AM Leanne Wood.

Ms Wood said: “The more the NHS spends on legal fees, the less there is for patient care. That is the stark truth.

“Legal costs account for over a quarter of all the money paid out in clinical negligence cases. Only lawyers benefit from that.

“Unless there is a radical reform of the system we will continue to pay more than we should to resolve medical mistakes. Patients, not lawyers, should gain most from the health service.”

The cost of claims has decreased in the past year, from £86m in 2004-05 to less than £37m in 2005-06.

But a leading medical negligence lawyer, Ken Thomas of Newport-based Harding Evans, said people were still more prepared to launch legal action against the NHS than they used to be.

He said: “Are people more aware of their rights? Yes.

“Whereas a few decades ago people might not have thought of questioning the medical care they have received, now they’re more prepared to do so.

“It’s not necessarily a bad thing if it means clinical governance issues are brought to the fore.”

The most common cases he dealt with concerns mistakes made in A&E, maternity wards and in gynaecology cases, he said.

Sian Rowlands, a solicitor at Cardiff firm Leo Abse, also specialises in medical negligence.

She said: “In my experience of dealing with new enquiries, people are very reluctant to talk about these things because of the very nature of it. The complaints process is valuable, because such cases often lead to an improvement in the level of care.”

Tory Health Spokesman Jonathan Morgan said it was part of a US-style “compensation culture” but was concerned there were other causes.

He said: “I do wonder how much strain and how much pressure our clinicians are under, if you consider the pressure that’s put on them by the Government to perform quickly enough to get the waiting lists down.

“I’m not suggesting that political pressures are the cause of this, but it’s certainly possible that it’s a factor.”

A spokesman for the Welsh Assembly Government said ministers were working to introduce new procedures aimed at dealing with the problem.

But he added: “Unfortunately there will be times when things do not go as well as we wish and mistakes can and do happen, particularly as advances in healthcare are increasing in its complexity.

“The Minister’s answer makes clear that the legal fees include fees payable in respect of personal injury claims.

“Whilst it is not possible to disaggregate the amount relating to each element it is likely that this figure is overstated.

“Whilst these sums seem large, and any money used to pay negligence claims means less money available to invest in patient care, we must put this into context and realise that it represents less than one percent of the NHS budget.”