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Medical Negligence

Volume 181: debated on Tuesday 20 November 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health what information he has, by health authority, of the amounts which have been paid out in compensation for medical negligence suits or related actions in each of the last five years for which figures are available, indicating in each case the field of medicine in which that suit arose.

Until 1 January 1990 the medical defence organisations paid compensation for medical negligence actions in relation to the medical or dental staff of health authorities. The information was therefore not collected centrally.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what guidance his Department has given, either formal or informal, to health authorities about funds which they should hold in contingency funds against legal suits for medical negligence; whether that guidance refers to any particular field of medicine; and if he will make a statement.

It is for health authorities to decide, within their cash allocations, whether to set aside money for any purpose.

From 1 January 1990 health authorities took over, from the medical defence organisations, the financial liabilities for medical negligence by hospital doctors. This meant that the contribution within individual doctors' remuneration towards the cost of doctors' subscriptions was no longer needed since membership ceased to be a condition of employment. The Department indicated that authorities would wish to identify this expenditure and set it aside to help meet the cost of claims paid.

In addition, most regional health authorities have arrangements for assisting their district health authorities with the legal costs and damages of large settlements and in the departmental guidance on claims for medical negligence, issued on 12 December 1989—health circular (89)34, a copy of which is available in the Library—the Department recommended that regional health authorities should have such arrangements.

There was no reference to particular fields of medicine in either context.