Almost 4,000 incidents where equipment being used in the care of patients in Irish hospitals failed have been reported over a three-year period.
These failures, which took place between 2015 and 2018, resulted in 72 clinical healthcare claims being created during the period, with an estimated liability of €17.3 million, according to data extracted from the National Incident Management System (NIMS).
The Irish Patients' Association (IPA), which sought the data from the State Claims Agency, said that because so few of the 3,836 equipment failure incidents have resulted in claims thus far, the total liability, where harm occurred and open disclosure applied, could be as high as €52 million.
The IPA said it was very concerned about the state of equipment being used across the health service, and about the lack of funds available for replacement equipment, noting the “choking” effect on capital expenditure of the cost overrun on the new national children’s hospital.
The projected cost of the hospital, to be built at St James’s in Dublin by 2022, increased to €1.4 billion last year.
The IPA said the resulting lack of money for other capital projects may impact on patients’ lives.
IPA chairman Stephen McMahon said that at the last meeting of the emergency department taskforce in November, he sought assurances that the auditing and servicing of medical devices was up to date, in order to reduce the possibility of breakdowns over the winter period. He said the HSE assured him this work had been carried out.
However, he subsequently visited St Vincent's and Tallaght hospitals in Dublin, where, according to Mr McMahon, aged equipment was a "cause of concern".
St Vincent’s needs new ventilators and ultrasound machines, and the need to replace them ranks high on the hospital’s risk register.
Most of the incidents of equipment failure related to clinical procedures (2,663 over the three years) or medication (860).
Most of the €17.3 million estimated liability was incurred in “birth-specific procedures”, according to the NIMS data.
Meanwhile, Minister for Health Simon Harris has insisted progress has been made in tackling overcrowding in hospitals.
Speaking before the latest meeting of the emergency department taskforce on Tuesday, he said there have been fewer patients waiting on trolleys since Christmas, despite the fact there has been a significant increase in the number of patients attending emergency departments.
There were 598 patients waiting on trolleys on Tuesday, according to the daily count by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation.
This figure included 419 waiting in emergency departments and 179 in wards elsewhere in hospitals.
The worst affected hospitals were Cork University Hospital (62), University Hospital Limerick (47) and St Vincent’s University Hospital (33).