Concern over Increase in Medical Negligence Claims in Northern Ireland

An increase in medical negligence claims in Northern Ireland threatens to swallow up addition funding allocated to the province´s healthcare service.

Concerns that £47.6 million of addition healthcare funding will be used to settle medical negligence claims in Northern Ireland have been raised by Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson, following the revelation that 752 new claims had been made against the health service in the year to April 2015.

The figures from the Department of Health also showed that £41.3 million was spent by the health service on medical negligence claims in Northern Ireland – with £30.1 million being paid out in compensation and the balance going towards legal costs and expert witnesses.

Ms Dobson – who is the Ulster Unionist spokesperson for health and agriculture – told reporters “Given the worryingly high £41.3 million cost of medical negligence cases last year, and the potential for higher costs this year, I am concerned that this new funding had already been swallowed up by the health service before it was even announced.”

During 2014/2015, there was an average of 3,061 claims being processed – an 11.3% increase compared to five years ago. The majority of the medical negligence claims in Northern Ireland related to treatment issues, misdiagnoses and incorrect tests results, or the failure to act on test results. Other complaints concerned surgical errors, negligence during childbirth and the lack of support received by patients in care.

Earlier this year, Rory McShane – Peter Walsh – the chief executive of the Action against Medical Accidents charity – said that the National Health Service should give higher priority to avoiding the lapses in patient safety in the first place, and avoiding legal costs as much as possible by admitting liability earlier. It currently takes an average of two-and-a-half years for medical negligence claims in Northern Ireland to be resolved.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: “The department is committed to providing high quality, safe and effective health and social care services to all patients and clients across Northern Ireland. The treatment and care provided to the overwhelming majority of people is of the highest quality. On occasions, things do go wrong and when they do, it is right that people are compensated appropriately.”