£38m in NHS medical negligence payouts in Wales as figure doubles

NHS Wales’ medical negligence payouts doubles to £38m

By India Pollock
21 August 2012 Last updated at 06:48

The cost of medical negligence payouts by the NHS in Wales almost doubled over the past three years, rising by £18m.

Figures obtained by BBC Wales show the cost of failures such as botched operations cost taxpayers £38m in the 12 months to April 2012.

The rise in both claims and their cost – totalling £84.3m over the last three years – has led the Welsh government to increase the Welsh risk pool by £16m.

It cited “no-win, no-fee” cases and increased life expectancy for the rise.

However, lawyers said a change to gradual payouts and a rise in compensation for cerebral palsy sufferers played a part.

Six of Wales’ seven health boards provided figures for the Freedom of Information request by BBC Wales. Abertawe Bro Morgannwg Health Board said it was still collating its statistics.

The number of settled cases where compensation was paid for clinical negligence rose for all health boards except Powys Teaching Health Board, which had fewer than 15 claims over three years.

However, the health board saw the largest increase in settlements, rising from just £131,485 to almost £6.5m in that time.

The health board pointed out that this was due “a single historical case dating to before the formation of the health board”.

Cases settled by Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board more than doubled in the three years to April 2012, totalling £22.8m, an increase of almost £6.3m.

The Welsh government has paid an extra £15.8m into the Welsh Risk Pool in 2011/2012.

This pool works as a kind of insurance for health boards, the money is used to reimburse health boards for claims exceeding £25,000.

The total amount paid out from the risk pool to health boards for compensation cases rose to £49.7m in 2011/2012.

Funds in the cash pool to compensate health boards have risen almost £16m over three years

Stephen Webber, head of medical negligence for Cardiff-based solicitors Hugh James, said: “Compensation claims have changed.

“Previously, families who claimed compensation because their child had cerebral palsy because of obstetrical negligence, for example, would receive one lump sum of money.

“But now they receive a smaller lump sum and an annual payment each year. This means that the amount of money paid out each year will increase.”

Mr Webber said cerebral palsy cases can also distort claim figures as compensation for these cases has also increased.

He added: “We used to settle those cases for around £4m. Now, compensation can be around £10m.

“The cost of care has increased dramatically, as well as the cost of specialist equipment.

“Where compensation is paid, the law says that health boards have a duty to put that child back in the place they would have been without the disability. That means it’s incredibly expensive.

“Some people think that a compensation payout is like a lottery win, but it isn’t. Clinical negligence can devastate a family’s life.”
‘Obtaining justice’

Welsh Conservative health spokesman Darren Millar AM said said that cuts in budget could be leading to more negligence cases.

He said: “We’ve got an NHS that’s facing mounting financial pressure. There’s a big jump in the number of cases and the amount paid out which means there must be something wrong with the system.

“I think the increase of ‘no win, no fee’ solicitors has had a part to play, but also I think that staff are finding it difficult to do their jobs because of financial pressure.”

A spokesman for the Welsh government said ‘no win, no fee’ claims and increased life expectancy had increased the value of claims.

He added that more claims may have been made due to an awareness of its Putting Things Right arrangement.

“Every year, thousands of patients receive high quality, safe and effective treatment, but in a modern health system – where increasingly complicated procedures are being undertaken – mistakes can still occur,” he said.

“When his happens, the NHS must investigate, and take action, where appropriate and provide assurances and feed back to patients,” he added.

But Desmond Hudson, chief executive of the Law Society of England and Wales said: “Conditional fees, or no win, no fee arrangements, currently provide the only method available to most victims of obtaining justice.

“If government is having to place more money in the Welsh Risk Pool, this implies that negligence in Welsh hospitals is increasing, that more people are aware of the right to claim compensation or that the financial impacts of negligence – the costs of care etc – have become even more serious.”

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