Friday, November 04, 2005


Scottish hospitals are hiding blunders by making millions of pounds’ worth of secret payments to victims of negligence, it has been claimed. In one case, NHS Tayside paid out a Scottish record of £3 million to a family without telling health board members employed to scrutinise expenditure. Despite the huge sums of public money involved, officials involved in out-of-court settlements have refused to provide details of what went wrong and who was to blame. Politicians and patient groups are demanding an end to the culture of secrecy surrounding medical compensation amid fears that lack of accountability puts patients at risk.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show that Scotland’s 15 health boards have paid out a total of £16.3 million in the past two years. Under current rules, the health boards are allowed to hide details of the cases. NHS Tayside paid £3 million last year to the family of a 10-year-old girl left with cerebral palsy after errors made during her birth. NHS Argyll and Clyde paid £1 million to another family in similar circumstances. But neither board would say if staff had been disciplined or whether they had changed hospital practice. One NHS Tayside board member was told details of the case were confidential after spotting the £3 million in a financial report.

Shona Robison, SNP Shadow Health Minister, said: “The Executive must be concerned that the current system breeds secretive medicine and extends the harrowing experiences of patients and their families.” A leading lawyer said these two tragic cases were “the tip of the iceberg”. The lawyer, who did not want to be named, added: “There are usually one or two of these sizeable payouts each year. We are approached with dozens of cases every year but many don’t ever come to a conclusion as the health board drags the process out so long. They are hugely difficult and complex cases and many families don’t have the means to see it through all the way.”

NHS Tayside said: “In settling claims there is a duty of confidentiality implicit in the procedure and NHS Tayside will not breach this. Where such claims have been settled in court then these will already be in the public domain. Those settled out of court will remain confidential.” Argyll and Clyde refused to comment.

The Department of Health announced last month that it was to introduce a method of small negligence claims of up to £20,000 to cut back on legal costs. But Andy Kerr, Executive Health Minister, ruled out any changes to the compensation procedure in Scotland. “There is a long standing agreement around confidentiality in cases like this, which we do not propose to break,” he said



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL hospitals and health insurance schemes should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the very poor and minimal regulation. Both Australia and Sweden have large private sector health systems with government reimbursement for privately-provided services so can a purely private system with some level of government reimbursement or insurance for the poor be so hard to do?

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