Medical consultants facing increases of 50% in indemnity cover
Increase is likely to threaten financial viability of some practices
Ms Justice Mary Irvine: chaired working group on medical negligence which has drawn up proposals for “pre-action protocols” for the handling of medical negligence cases
Medical consultants are facing increases of up to 50 per cent in the cost of clinical indemnity cover. The UK-based Medical Protection Society (MPS), which provides cover for the vast majority of Irish consultants in private practice, will inform its members of the increase in the coming days, The Irish Times has learned.
The increase, which comes on top of other increases ranging up to 67 per cent in some medical specialties since 2008, is likely to threaten the financial viability of some practices and increase the cost of care for patients.
The MPS blamed the increase in subscription rates on a rise in the rate at which doctors are being sued and a rise in the cost of claims. It called on the Government to address the problem through urgent changes in tort law.
Earlier this year, the State’s last private obstetric unit, Mount Carmel Hospital, closed after the National Asset Management Agency failed to find a buyer for the facility. The soaring cost of indemnifying obstetricians at the hospital was cited as one factor which led to the company that owned the hospital going into liquidation.
Contacted yesterday, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association said it was gravely concerned at the latest increase in charges by the MPS. “This will result in a growing number of patients seeking care in public hospitals at a time when these hospitals do not have the capacity to treat more patients due to a lack of frontline resources and an insufficient number of consultants,” said chief executive Martin Varley.
He said the association has written to Minister for Health James Reilly and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald highlighting the need to urgently review proposals to reduce the cost of clinical indemnity and ensure the availability of care to patients. The MPS declined to provide details of the rise in subscription rates, but these are believed to be up to 50 per cent for high-risk specialties.
“The claims environment against private hospital consultants has deteriorated significantly over the last two years with the actuarial estimates of the cost of indemnity per member increasing by more than 90 per cent,” said Dr Rob Hendry, MPS medical director.
“The claims environment is deteriorating in part because of very high compensation payments being awarded. In addition, the lack of an efficient and predictable legal process for handling clinical negligence claims allows the size of claims to spiral,” Dr Hendry added.
A working group on medical negligence chaired by Ms Justice Mary Irvine has drawn up proposals for “pre-action protocols” for the handling of medical negligence cases. These would require the plaintiff and defendant to set out their cases openly and transparently from a very early stage so that they can zone in on specific points of contention in what can often be deeply complex cases.
Ms Justice Irvine’s group also proposed new rules of court for more intensive case management of claims. These would require parties to exchange information within defined time periods, as happens in the commercial court, to reduce delays and costs.