NHS Negligence Bill Soars To £53m

Ths NHS in Wales paid out more than £1m a week in compensation to victims of medical blunders. Details of NHS trust accounts, released under the Freedom of Information Act by the Welsh Assembly Government, indicate that more than £53m in clinical negligence payments have been made in the last financial year.

This dwarfs the £15,590,000 figure paid for a similar period in the previous year. On top of the money paid to compensate the victims of medical mistakes, more than £2m was paid out in legal fees by the NHS.

Dr Tony Calland, chairman of the British Medical Association’s Welsh Council said, “It is disappointing that clinical negligence claims have risen, but this shows that both management and professionals have to work even harder to ensure that clinical practice is up to standard and that management systems are designed to ameliorate or reduce the incidence of negligence claims.”

The figures show that Gwent Healthcare NHS Trust paid £21m for clinical negligence between April 1, 2006 and March 31 this year, more than the total paid out by all NHS trusts last year. Another of Wales’ largest trusts, Swansea, paid nearly £10m over the same period, while Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust, paid £5,185,000 last year.

Jonathan Morgan, Conservative Shadow Health Minister, said, “I am chairing an Assembly committee which will look into how the NHS trusts deal with clinical negligence cases. Most people who make the claims do not want to go to court. They want their case examined in detail and then, if necessary, an apology and assurances it won’t happen again.

“Some of the most serious cases will need to go to court but we need a way of mitigating against the smaller claims so we can avoid a costly court case. A figure of £53m is astonishing and when the Health Minister returns to work I will be asking her why it is so big.”

The Assembly Government has introduced the NHS Redress Measure, to help the NHS learn from its mistakes. It will also introduce a lower value clinical negligence, which will mean patients with minor claims will waive their right to sue. The Welsh Assembly Government would not comment directly on the figures.

But referring to a statement released in July, a spokesman said “The NHS Redress Measure will open the way to simplifying how patients can seek redress from the NHS, making the system both more coherent and more accessible.

“It will establish better access, new processes and fairer outcomes for users of NHS services. This aims to ensure a more effective use of resources for the NHS and ultimately be fairer on patients and the NHS itself. This measure is not about throwing money at people in the hope that they will take their complaints away, but about dealing with people properly and fairly, and, if possible, effectively addressing their concerns.”

Ken Thomas, a medical negligence solicitor with Harding Evans solicitors, said it was often difficult to tell how accurate the figures were against the actual money spent. “Figures can sometimes be distorted because a lot of ongoing complex long-term cases can be resolved in one year and that increases the overall cost to the NHS,” he said.

“The NHS Redress Measure is still a long way off as we are yet to see any detail of how it will actually work. At the present time people still see legal action as the only way of ensure the NHS takes them seriously and a way of preventing it from happening in the future. There is no central record of how many claims against the NHS succeed but I do not think it is overwhelmingly high.”

Peter Johns, director of the Board of Community Health Councils in Wales, said, “It will only take one or two really big cases to distort the figures quite significantly. It is a difficult area; mistakes and accidents do happen, and people probably do not realise the true risks of some procedures. The Assembly Government is putting quite a lot of effort into improving the quality of services as well as speeding up access to services, and it will take some time for the quality emphasis to come through.

“The Minister has also launched the NHS Redress scheme which is to be in place soon, and that is intended to deal with some of the lesser cases in a quicker way to reduce stress for claimants and for the service. If that succeeds and the quality initiative bites, we should see a reduction in clinical negligence claims over the next few years.”