MEDICAL negligence in five health trusts will cost the tax payer a total of £250 million – the cost of building a new hospital.
A report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) has revealed in the past five years £117 million has been paid out in negligence claims and legal costs.
Since 2007, £77 million was shelled out to cover damages and while another £39m was spent on legal costs.
However, the NIAO said there was worst news to come.
It expects the Department of Health will spend a further £136m to cover unsettled cases.
That means the figure will at least top £250 million.
The NIAO said that the final bill was harder to determine as the cost of additional patient treatment had to be included.
The report is pubished as Health Minister Edwin Poots is on a business trip to America to try and promote Northern Ireland as a place to develop new healthcare products.
The DUP MLA is to meet key European and US health care leaders and will address an international conference in Boston.
According to the NIAO, around 83,000 “adverse incidents” of potential harm to the patient are recorded across the trusts each year, but many more are going unreported.
Comptroller and Auditor General Kieran Donnelly said overall, there were high standards of care but that reducing incidents is a core task for the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and HSC Trusts.
“Two factors are crucial to this,” he said. “The establishment of a culture in which incidents can be reported easily, honestly and without fear of blame and the ability to ensure that lessons learned from these incidents are successfully taken on board by HSC staff.
“Whilst reporting of adverse incidents has improved at the local level, the Department accepts that under-reporting of incidents continues.
“At the regional level a reporting and learning system exists for serious adverse incidents but a regional system to ensure the effective evaluation of numbers, types and causes of all adverse incidents has still to be introduced.”
The report also recommended developing a resolution process to offer patients an alternative to legal action, as auditors found that in some smaller cases legal costs exceeded the amount of damages ultimately paid out.