Legal Aid bill for suing NHS at record high

The Legal Aid bill for people suing NHS Scotland for negligence has risen to a record high just halfway through the financial year, the Tories have said.

The cost stands at 1.27 million about six months into 2010-11, up from 1.08m over the whole of the previous year.

The figures, released by the Scottish Government to the Conservative Party, continue an upward trend from 416,000 in 2007-8.

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The Scottish Legal Aid Board is responsible for administering the Legal Aid scheme.

Justice secretary Kenny Mac-Askill said the board recovered 30 per cent of the total figure in 2009-10.

Tory justice spokesman John Lamont said: "The Legal Aid budget is one of the largest components of Scotland's justice budget and must be controlled carefully.

"Legitimate claims must be allowed to be pursued regardless of the financial standing of the claimant.

"However, these figures suggest that too many people are using the courts as a means of settling their complaint regardless of the merits of their case."

Labour MSP Bill Butler called for the system of compensation to be overhauled.

He said: "When things do go wrong, people have the right to make complaints and receive compensation. These figures provide yet more evidence that the current system is cumbersome and expensive.

"I support the British Medical Association's call for a less adversarial system to be introduced for resolving claims that will better serve the interests of patients."

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Earlier this year The Scotsman revealed that a record amount had been paid out in compensation claims by the NHS.

The statistics, obtained under Freedom of Information laws, showed that in 2008-9 a total of 31.9m was paid in compensation - the majority in cases of clinical negligence. In 2009-10, this increased to more than 49m.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman questioned the figures published by the Tories.

"These claims are wrong as the figures fail to take into account costs recovered by the Scottish Legal Aid Board associated with medical negligence cases," she said. "Per head of population, the amount of money paid out in Scotland on clinical negligence claims is far less then in the rest of the UK.

"The NHS has an intense focus on containing the costs of clinical negligence claims and is working hard to drive these down through initiatives like the Scottish Patient Safety Programme and the Quality Strategy."