Cabinet discusses law to oblige doctors to tell patients of ‘serious incidents’

Harris says proposed mandatory reporting law similar to but goes further than UK regime

Minister for Health Simon Harris will bring the Heads of the Patient Safety Bill to Cabinet. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Minister for Health Simon Harris will bring the Heads of the Patient Safety Bill to Cabinet. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

The Cabinet is discussing proposed legislation that would oblige doctors to tell patients of “serious reportable safety incidents”.

Minister for Health Simon Harris brought the Heads of the Patient Safety Bill to Cabinet on Thursday, which will oblige medical professionals to disclose problems to those who have been harmed by them and to the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA).

The move comes after the cervical cancer scandal in which more than 200 women diagnosed with cervical cancer should have received notification that earlier tests they were given should have been followed up.

The type of incidents that would be covered by the new legislation are patient deaths, a serious disability resulting from a medication or diagnostic errors, errors with screening and maternal deaths.

Correspondence seen by The Irish Times shows Mr Harris, in a letter to the head of the HSE, Tony O’Brien, sent on January 22nd this year, said they shared the view that a commitment to patient safety and open disclosure were key to the delivery of safe, quality healthcare.

“Open disclosure is an important element of the range of initiatives being progressed to improve the management of patient safety incidents and to promote a comprehensive patient-centred approach to preventing, managing and learning from incidents,” he wrote.

Speaking prior to the Cabinent meeting Mr Harris said open disclosure needed to become mandatory.

He said the proposed Irish law would go further than similar legislation in the UK and would also see HIQA’s inspection powers extended to private hospitals.

Mr Harris also indicated he wanted the Bill to progress quickly.

“If the Cabinet approves this bill I will send it to the Oireachtas Heath Committee,” he said.

When asked about sanctions for medical professionals who fail to comply, Mr Harris said “summary and indictment sanctions, which will include fines and potential imprisonment” would be provided for.

“When something has gone seriously wrong, it shouldn’t be an option to tell the patient” he said.