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Cash-strapped health trusts pay out £7 million for legal advice

Almost £7 million of taxpayers money was spent providing five cash-strapped health trusts with legal advice
John Monaghan

CASH-STRAPPED health trusts across the north paid out almost £7 million for legal advice last year, according to figures released to the Assembly.

Belfast Health Trust had the highest bill, at £2.5 million, while the other four health trusts all spent more than £1 million each on lawyers in the 2014-15 tax year.

In addition to the figure for the health trusts, the Fire and Rescue Service spent £207,000 on legal fees.

The figures were released in response to an Assembly question by DUP North Down MLA Alex Easton.

Earlier this year The Irish News reported that £81 million had been paid out by health trusts in medical negligence cases in two years from 2012.

A detailed review, which probed 16 organisations including the five health trusts, also looked at the financial problems plaguing the sector - with only the Belfast health trust breaking even in its budget despite all trusts receiving bail-outs totalling of £115 million.

Between 2009 and 2013, the health service, including the Department of Health and the five trusts, spent £146 million on legal fees and compensation.

In 2013 alone, a total of £17.5 million was spent by the health service on legal costs, with TUV MLA Jim Allister questioning why legal fees were "almost as high as the pay-outs."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said that the expenditure on advice ensured that the "legal and financial interests of the service are robustly protected throughout the legal process."

She said: "The legal costs are rigorously examined and challenged and include sums paid to a range of experts that are required to properly protect those legal and financial interests; from medical experts in the particular speciality to forensic accountants and other experts.”

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