Secret medical negligence payouts revealed
Medical negligence claims in hospitals are costing NSW taxpayers nearly $100 million a year, an investigation by The Daily Telegraph has found.
The payouts are for medical mistakes and malpractice and can range from incorrect diagnoses, amputations caused by the wrong antibiotics being prescribed, to surgical procedures on the wrong body parts.
Details of the cases are kept secret from the public and require numerous freedom of information requests across multiple local health districts to simply uncover the huge financial sums involved.
The government documents show the Illawarra Shoalhaven paid out the most in 2019 - $19.95 million to finalise 47 claims.
The year before they paid out $8.3 million to finalise 70 claims and$16.67 million for 90 claims in 2017.
Overall, our state public hospital payouts cost taxpayers $95.7 million.
"The government is running a health system that is at breaking point and when that happens accidents occur and the consequences can be catastrophic," Opposition health spokesman Ryan Park said.
"What the government doesn't understand is that having shiny new buildings are no good if people are not getting health care delivered in a way that is safe and effective."
The Central Coast also paid out big sums - $15.8 million in 2019, to pay off cases stretching back to 2008. Over in the Hunter, the health system settled $11.2 million in claims, and a massive $46 million in 2017.
Northern Sydney, by contrast, paid out just $17,670 for one claim in 2019 and $101,595 for four claims the year before.
Kingsley Lawson lawyer Maria Aravena said she has had clients who have suffered amputations as a result of medical mistakes and this was not uncommon.
"A lot of the cases we see are around the management of infections and the administering of incorrect antibiotics for that particular infection," she said.
"The severity of infections is underestimated sometimes. They can lead to significant injuries such as amputations, which I have seen."
"I've seen people who injure their foot for example, then develop an infection, which is either not treated properly in hospitals or there is a delay in administering antibiotics, which then makes the infection become more severe and untreatable, leading to the need to amputate the limb."
Another case involved a woman who went in for an oophorectomy to remove an ovary, and a part of her bowel was perforated.
"Instead of managing the perforation right away, it was missed and the patient was closed up," Ms Aravena said.
"She subsequently developed sepsis and required another operation requiring a bowel resection."
She said some cases have arisen from a lack of staff, with medical staff having to juggle too much at once, while other cases occur during poor handovers, when information is not passed on.
Other very common medical negligence claims involve birth injuries, which result in injuries to babies or mothers or both, medication errors and incorrect interpretation of radiology leading to delays in diagnosing cancers and other illnesses.
Other common medical negligence claims involve birth injuries, medication errors and radiology errors.
Sydney Local Health District paid out $6.1 million for 111 claims during 2019, while South Western Sydney paid out $16.2 million, and a whopping $38.7 million in 2017.
Medical Error Action Group founder Lorraine Long says the millions spent on payouts would be better spent on "making fail-safe systems that flag preventable mistakes".
"Millions paid out due to medical negligence is the indicator systems have not improved.
"Paying out for mistakes that keep repeating is a bad business model, i.e. no one is learning from mistakes to see they don't repeat.
"I am always curious why hospitals have fundraisers and rattle the tin upon entry.
"It's like those donations are actually funding legal fees and payouts to affected patients.
"$95 million is an extraordinary sum, it indicates there are a lot of mistakes affecting a lot of patients."
Originally published as Secret medical negligence payouts revealed