Conference hears call for more candid defence of medical negligence claims

Solicitor argues such an approach would speed up claims and reduce costs


A more candid approach by doctors to the defence of medical negligence claims would speed up claims and reduce the costs involved, to the benefit of both patients and healthcare professionals, a conference has heard.

Solicitor Ernest Cantillon, who has represented patients in high-profile medical negligence cases, said there was an urgent need to change the system where in the majority of cases the doctor denies everything.

Mr Cantillon told the conference, organised by the faculty of law at University College Cork, that such an approach seemed to have its origins in the believed right against self-incrimination.

The obligation to be candid in the Medical Council guidelines, which advocate the doctor should acknowledge the event, explain how it happened and apologise where appropriate, was a welcome development for both medics and patients, he said.

Despite this, there seemed to be reluctance by consultants to report adverse incidents to the State Claims Agency and, if that was the case, it was likely they would be even more reluctant to report incidents to patients.

“There were some 86,000 adverse incidents reported last year to the State Claims Agency. It is disappointing to note that 98 per cent of those reports were made by nurses and only 2 per cent by doctors. Why is this?” he asked.

Mr Cantillon said he believed the best way to change this defend-and-deny approach was to introduce legislation that would sanction doctors and the HSE for failing to report adverse events.

Prof Richard Greene of the National Perinatal Epidemiology Centre told the conference that litigation often resulted in doctors becoming more defensive, carrying out more tests or even leaving medicine, which did not improve the system.