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BBC Wales investigation uncovers medical negligence compensation increase

View profile for Judith Thomas-Whittingham
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A BBC Wales investigation has revealed that compensation payouts by the NHS in Wales have almost doubled since 2009.

The figures, obtained by the BBC using Freedom of Information requests, indicate that Health Boards across Wales have paid out £38million in compensation in the 2011-2012 financial year.

Between 2009 and 2012, the figures available for the six Health Boards who responded to the BBC's request show that 1,104 cases were settled worth a total of £84,389,438 in compensation.

The Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, the largest health organisation in Wales, settled 221 cases in 2011-2012 and in doing so paid out the highest amount with compensation payments totalling £13,640,034. In contrast, Powys Teaching Health Board settled less than five cases but the total value of these was £6,449,222. This represented the largest increase in the value of settlements over the three years having risen from £131,485 for five cases in 2009-2010.

The increase in the cost of negligence claims in Wales can be attributed to a number of factors. Some cases, particularly those for birth-related injuries, can take many years to settle and can be worth substantial amounts when they do. In cerebral palsy cases, the move towards smaller 'lump sums' and annual maintenance payments to cover day to day costs like care and specialist equipment can increase the amount that NHS Trusts have to pay out each year.

The general increase in the cost of living also has a significant impact on the value of clinical negligence claims with claimants needing extensive professional care and nursing, rehabilitation and specialist equipment, the cost of which is rising like everything else. The advances in medical care and technology also have an impact. As life expectancy increases, the cost of supplying services “for life” increases accordingly.

Whilst the figures involved in some claims can seem staggeringly high, the reality is that clinical negligence can have a catastrophic and heartbreaking impact upon the patient and their family. The amounts paid out in such circumstances can never repair the damage but they can at least make dealing with resultant effects easier and provide a quality of care and life that the patient might otherwise not receive.

By clinical negligence solicitor, Kerry Barlow