Successful compensation claims made against the NHS in Wales on the grounds of medical negligence have risen markedly since 2009; new figures have revealed.
Over the course of the last three years, compensation awards following legal action against Healthcare Trusts due to issues such as mistakes during operations in the nation have risen in value by £18 million, the BBC reports.
According to data obtained by the news source through a freedom of information request, medical negligence claim settlements made during the 12-month period ending in April this year came to £38 million.
These statistics, which are based on figures provided by six of the seven NHS trusts based in Wales, with only the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg Health Board not providing data; also established that compensation amounts paid have totalled £84.3 million since 2009.
This marked increase in both the volume of claims and the amount of money being distributed in damages has led to the Welsh government raising its medical negligence risk pool by £16 million.
Why have medical negligence damages awards nearly doubled since 2009?
Unsurprisingly, opinions vary when it comes to explaining why both the number of claims and total amount of cash granted in settlements have gone up so markedly in recent years.
According to the NHS itself, the primary reason behind this hike is the growing popularity of no-win, no-fee legal arrangements between claimants and solicitors.
However, legal professionals have attributed the increase to issues such as a rise in the number of people taking action on the grounds that they struggle with cerebral palsy.
Statistics from the NHS Litigation Authority - which handles negligence claims made against the NHS and works to improve risk management practices in the organisation - show that during 2010-11 it faced a total of 8,655 cases of medical negligence disputes across the UK.
These resulted in some £863 million being granted in compensation - a figure markedly higher than the £787 million granted in the previous 12-month timeframe.
How much have Welsh NHS bodies granted in compensation settlements?
The upward trend seen across Britain included Wales, as the figures obtained from NHS boards in the country showed that all except one of these trusts experienced a higher number of compensation settlements in 2011-12.
The one exception to this rule was the Powys Teaching Health Board, although this organisation still saw the amount it handed out in damages sums soar to nearly £6.5 million from less than £150,000 in the three years starting in 2009.
Meanwhile, according to the statistics obtained by the BBC, the Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board saw the number of cases it faced double to awards totalling some £22.8 million in the three-year timeframe ending in April 2012.
Furthermore, the Cardiff and Vale board saw its total climb by £4.1 million during the same period, with the Cwm Taf trust seeing cases against it go up by just over £3 million.
In addition, claims against the Hywel Dda board were worth £4.62 million in 2011-12, an increase of £3.03 million on the figure of £1.64 million posted in 2009-10.
Will this trend of rising claims and settlements continue?
In the view of Darren Millar AM, health spokesman for the Welsh Conservatives, NHS trusts are only likely to see the number of claims they face carry on rising in the coming years.
Speaking to the BBC, Mr Millar explained that the fact boards are having to operate under lower budgets is likely to result in them enduring more legal action as, inevitably, the number of mistakes members of staff commit increase.
"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 ... staff are finding it difficult to do their jobs because of financial pressure," he noted.
A spokesman from the Welsh government added that even though the NHS strives to make sure standards are kept high, errors can occur in such a pressurised working environment.
"When his happens, the NHS must investigate and take action, where appropriate and provide assurances and feed back to patients," he stated.
Posted by Emily Swanson