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PAC will probe HSE's €367m bill for legal payouts

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John McGuinness

John McGuinness

John McGuinness

THE Dail's spending watchdog is to examine the extent of legal settlements made on behalf of the health service after new figures revealed they had cost taxpayers almost €367m over the past decade.

Data supplied by the State Claims Agency shows settlement sums have ballooned in that period - rising from €2.2m in 2004 to €88m in 2013.

Over 2,000 cases were recorded in the past 10 years, the data shows.

The claims were made against the Health Service Executive (HSE) for personal injury and damage to property where it was alleged the State was negligent.

Details of the settlement sums were provided to Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman John McGuinness in response to a parliamentary question.

Mr McGuinness said the committee would be pressing the HSE for an explanation as to what factors had driven the surge in settlements and whether more could be done to cut down on claims.

"It is big money. We don't know why the settlements have grown to the extent that they have," he said.

"People are probably more likely to sue than before. There may be a negligent culture and the courts may be more generous than before. It could be a combination of these factors. We don't know. But one way or another, it has cost the taxpayer a fortune and we will be taking this matter up with the HSE."

Mr McGuinness said the committee would be keen to know if there was a better model available to deal with such claims.

The State Claims Agency has managed claims against the HSE since 2002 under the clinical indemnity scheme.

Under the scheme, the State assumed full responsibility for the indemnification and management of all clinical negligence claims, including those which are birth-related.

The highest number of settlements made with patients and others who sued the HSE in a single year was 363 in 2011.

Those actions were settled for a combined sum of €57.4m.

The most expensive year in terms of payouts was 2013, when over €88m was paid in settlement of 244 cases.

Figures for the entirety of 2014 are not yet available.

However, up to the end of October, some 74 settlements had been finalised at a cost of €49.7m.

The most recent report by the State Claims Agency on the clinical indemnity scheme showed that a third of incidents reported in 2012 related to trips, slips and falls. Violence, harassment or abuse accounted for 12.9pc of reported incidents.

Irish Independent