The Health Service Executive paid out almost €67 million in compensation for medical malpractice during birth procedures over the last five years, new figures reveal.
Overall, €165 million was paid out to patients or members of the public, including patients’ families and next of kin, as a result of incidents which occurred in HSE-run hospitals up until December 31st, last year.
The vast majority of payments came as a result of negligent clinical practice, however the exposure of patients to medication fluids, medical gases and biological hazards cost over €3.6 million within that time period.
Insurance claims payouts and court settlements for birth procedures during 2014, standing at just under €11 million, fell by more than half compared to almost €25 million the previous year.
Last week, it was revealed that the HSE attempted to delay the publication of a Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) report into the baby deaths at the Midland Regional Hospital in Portlaoise.
An Oireachtas health committee is currently examining problem births at Ballinasloe's Portiuncula Hospital last year.
It is examining the births of seven babies born in Portiuncula last year who suffered oxygen deprivation, two of whom died.
The increase in birth-specific payouts in 2013 reflects an overall spike that year, in which HSE hospitals spent over €50 million compensating patients and members of the public. This compares to €26 million in 2012, and €32 million last year, according to figures obtained through Freedom of Information legislation.
As an organisation, the HSE has spent about €367 million in compensation payments for more than 2,000 cases over the last decade.
The Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee is currently examining how settlements increased from €2.2 million in 2004 to the record sums of recent years.
While overall payouts decreased last year, hospitals spent €881,750 settling cases with people exposed to hazardous biological organisms in 2014 – a quadrupling of the 2013 figure.
They also parted with over €1 million in cases of “self-injurious behaviour” exhibited by patients since 2010, with “violence, harassment and aggression” cases costing €35,000.
Some payment categories appeared for the first time last year, including €56,000 paid out for “exposure to psychological hazards” in 2014.
There was an increase in payments related to exposure to physical hazards last year, with €1.17 million paid to patients and members of the public who sustained slips or falls, or who were exposed to electrical or mechanical hazards.
The topic of indemnification has proven particularly problematic for public and private healthcare professionals, with bodies such as the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) and the Irish Hospital Consultants Organisation appealing to insurers and the Government to act on what they've termed an exorbitant rise in fees.
The increase in claims has had a knock-on effect in terms of higher indemnification costs, a situation which has been exacerbated by an “adversarial litigious system”, according to the IMO.
Individual payout cases: €13.5 million- Gill Russell, 2014
In what was a seminal court case, eight year-old Cork boy Gill Russell received the largest ever personal injury settlement in the history of the State as a result of brain damage caused at birth.
During what was described as a “prolonged and totally chaotic” delivery at Erinville Hospital in Cork in 2006, he suffered various debilitating injuries which it was claimed caused him to develop a form of cerebral palsy which left him confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
Following an interim payment of €1.4 million and an apology from Cork University Maternity Hospital, his mother Karen Russell eventually succeeded in securing a windfall lump-sum payment last December which Justice Kevin Cross said was fair to both sides of the case.
€11 million- Bríd Courtney, 2012
As with many of the multi-million euro payments handed out by the HSE in recent years, Bríd Courtney’s case came as a result of alleged negligence during the child’s birth procedure.
Then aged nine, she was awarded €11 million by the High Court in November 2012 after suffering severe injuries and brain damage in the maternity unit of Tralee General Hospital in 2003.
The settlement was agreed without admission of liability by the HSE.
€8.5 million- Dylan Gaffney Hayes, 2013
Speaking at a High Court case in November 2013, Dylan’s father Thomas Hayes said his family had no choice but to take legal action against the HSE after the State Claims Agency refused to provide a “modest” payment to enable them to buy a suitable house to meet the six year-old’s needs.
Complications during a birth procedure at Waterford Regional Hospital in 2007 caused him to develop cerebral palsy, which necessitated the use of a wheelchair. Speaking after the ruling, Mr Hayes accused the State of “playing games” and adopting a “poker approach” to his son’s case.
€7.5 million- Patricia Ingle, 2011
A virtually unprecedented case, Patricia Ingle’s contraction of a rare brain disease while working with parrots at a pet shop in Limerick led to claims being taken against both the pet shop and the HSE.
Ms Ingle’s legal team alleged that the HSE’s failure to diagnose her paralysing condition contributed towards her suffering, and she was eventually awarded €7.5 million in June 2011.
€5.8 million- Grace Orchard, 2014
Another maternity-related claim, then eight year-old Grace Orchard received a settlement of €5.8 million after it was alleged that her birth at St Finbarr’s Hospital in Cork was mismanaged and that a labour-inducing drug was administered inappropriately.
As a result, it was claimed that she suffered severe insult, trauma and distress during her delivery. She was subsequently diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and received a public apology from the CEO of Cork University Hospital.