Harney supports a no-fault compensation scheme


MINISTER FOR HEALTH Mary Harney would have “much sympathy” for a “no- fault” medical compensation scheme – so patients and their families could avoid the trauma of the legal process.

A report is due later this year from a group chaired by Prof Peter McKenna of the Rotunda Hospital, focusing on cases of children who have suffered brain injuries at birth.

The Minister said the group was “trying to reach agreement between parents and the various interest groups before making a recommendation which, judging by initial indications, was for a no-fault scheme”.

Ms Harney said: “I would have much sympathy for it. If we could target money to the children and their families instead of through a legal process and litigation that results in trauma, it would be attractive.” She added that “if we could have a no-fault system that did not open the floodgates, I would be in favour of it”.

Concern about the high legal costs associated with medical litigation in Ireland was raised in the Dáil.

Fine Gael health spokesman Dr James Reilly said legal bills for the “average catastrophic injury case, such as one involving cerebral palsy, amount to approximately €1 million”.

Legal costs in Ireland are about 56 cent for every euro that a plaintiff gets, while under the NHS in Britain the figure is 43 pence on every pound, and “it’s a hell of a difference”, Dr Reilly said. “From my general practice, I know that vaccination is the most dangerous thing that GPs do because of untoward effects, which are rare, but possible,” he said.

Dr Reilly favoured a no-fault scheme because “if a doctor gives a vaccine in good faith, manufacturers produce it in good faith, parents have it administered to their child in good faith and an untoward event occurs, as occurs rarely, the parents will be left mortgaging their house to get justice and care for their child”. Litigation ensues, “the legal profession has a heyday and the families and professionals who have done no wrong are traumatised”, he said.

Such a system is fine if there was neglect but he said that in most cases this was not the situation. It “does not make sense that the higher the award to the patient, the greater the professional fee”.

The Minister agreed, saying “professionals in this country do much better than their counterparts in Northern Ireland or Britain”. But the legislation passed last week to introduce the public sector pension levy, also “provides for the renegotiating or resetting of fees for health, legal and other professionals”, Ms Harney said.

The State Claims Agency manages hospital claims under the clinical indemnity scheme for medical personnel and has made savings, through the elimination of separate representation for hospitals, consultants and junior doctors, Ms Harney said. Cases are easier to settle and compensation is delivered more quickly, and it is “easier to defend cases that have no merit”, she said, adding that the agency was examining how it could reduce its costs further.