First 'Made in Wales' law will deliver fairer compensation system for NHS patients 

03 July 2007, Welsh Government

Health Minister Edwina Hart will today [Tuesday, 3 July] unveil proposals to give NHS patients fairer and more equal access to compensation when things go wrong and allow easier settlement of clinical negligence claims.

It is the first Government proposed Measure to be scrutinised by the National Assembly for Wales under powers introduced by the Government of Wales Act.

Mrs Hart said:

Every year in Wales, thousands of patients receive high-quality, safe and effective treatment and are completely satisfied with the care they received. However, there will be instances where things do not go as well as we would wish, despite best efforts and procedures to minimise risk. When things do go wrong, patients should be able to raise concerns openly and know that lessons will be learned by the organisation and that they will get the help and support they need or compensation, if appropriate.

I am pleased that the NHS Redress Measure will be the first to be scrutinised by the Assembly - this shows the importance we place on ensuring the best possible outcome for patients and the NHS when, on rare occasions, things do go wrong.

The NHS Redress Measure will open the way to simplifying how patients can seek redress from the NHS, making the system both more coherent and more accessible. It will establish better access, new processes and fairer outcomes for users of NHS services. This aims to ensure a more effective use of resources for the NHS and ultimately be fairer on patients and the NHS itself.

The Measure will enable arrangements to be put in place for the handling of lower value clinical negligence claims without the need for legal action with the Courts, which can take time, and cause distress on patients and health professionals.

Mrs Hart said:

This Measure is not about throwing money at people in the hope that they will take their complaints away, but about dealing with people properly and fairly, and if possible and effectively addressing concerns.

We are already working with patients, the NHS and other stakeholders, in discussing the sorts of improvements they would like to see in this area and involving them in the development of the detail of any new arrangements.  

I have also been in discussion with opposition spokespeople and they have agreed to join me on a working group to consider these issues together and come up with solutions.

The outcome of these discussions will inform the detailed regulations which will be consulted upon next year.

The Director of the Board of Community Health Councils in Wales, Peter Johns, added:

This enhancement to Welsh Assembly Government powers is a welcome advance which will provide Welsh patients with an opportunity to access redress when things unfortunately go wrong.

Although we don't anticipate that many patients will need this scheme, we do see it as an opportunity for timely and appropriate action by the NHS.

Hugh Williams from the charity Action Against Medical Accidents (AvMA), which supports people affected by medical errors said:

AvMA is most concerned that errors which harm patients are avoided in the first place, but also warmly welcome this initiative in Wales to promote more openness and easier access to redress, including assurances that lessons have been learned. The devil will be in the detail, but we look forward to working closely with the Welsh Assembly Government to ensure that the proposed scheme will make this happen.

Notes:

Draft Measures are similar to Bills in Parliament and enable the Assembly to make its own laws in respect of certain matters.   They are subject to three stages of scrutiny in the Assembly, similar to the stages through which Bills pass at Westminster.  Once the Assembly has passed a Measure, it becomes law by being approved by the Queen, meeting in Privy Council.  Measures can confer regulation-making powers on the Welsh Ministers, to enable them to implement the detail of the legislation within the framework set by the Measure itself.  

The proposed Measure on NHS Redress stems from a power conferred on the previous Assembly by section 17 of the NHS Redress Act 2006.  Under transitional provisions in the Government of Wales Act 2006, this was converted into a power for the new Assembly constituted by that Act to be able to legislate by Assembly Measure in relation to NHS Redress.  The scope of the Assembly's power to legislate on this matter is set out as Matter 9.1 in field 9 of Part I of Schedule 5 to the Government of Wales Act 2006:  

"Matter 9.1 - Provision for and in connection with the provision of redress without recourse to civil proceedings in circumstances in which, under the law of England and Wales, qualifying liability in tort arises in connection with the provision of services (in Wales or elsewhere) as part of the health service in Wales".

This means that the Assembly can now makes its own laws in respect of this particular matter.