The Government has started work on “open disclosure” legislation which would allow medical professionals to inform patients and their families of medical incidents that have caused harm.
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said the legislation would lead to better outcomes for patients and families without generating large increases in costs to the taxpayer.
In a speech to the Family Lawyers Association of Ireland this morning, Mr Shatter said: “I believe that if hospitals were to investigate an incident and to admit liability quickly once medical negligence had been established, such reform would be much more beneficial to families.”
Open disclosure legislation would “avoid families having to go to court to prove that medical negligence had actually occurred. Families would not have to incur the same level of costs for medical reports and legal advice,” he said.
“Indeed, it would mean that taxpayers money would no longer be wasted by State agencies seeking to defend the indefensible,” he added.
Last week Minister for Health Dr James Reilly announced plans to have the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) review the circumstances surrounding the deaths of four babies at the Midlands Regional Hospital in Portlaoise over a six-year period.
Following meetings with three of the affected families Dr Reilly said “there were an awful lot of issues raised by the families which they found deeply upsetting – sometimes dehumanising – and I really believe there is no room for that in a modern health service that’s supposed to be patient-centred.”
Medical Council guidelines now include an obligation for medical professionals to be candid and the health service in November published a national policy on open disclosure which states that the patient must be informed in a timely manner of the facts relating to the incident and an apology provided, where appropriate.
The Irish Medical Organisation, which represents doctors, has said this policy document falls short by failing to address the implications of disclosure to third parties for doctor-patient confidentiality and not setting out what supports will be provided for hospital staff.
Mr Shatter said today the manner in which the Midland Regional Hospital at Portlaoise Hospital had treated families in relation to the deaths of a number of babies, was inexcusable.
The Health Service Executive has apologised to four families whose babies died during or shortly after birth in the Midland Regional Hospital, Portlaoise, following an investigation by RTE.
A review of the maternity unit in the Portlaoise hospital is also underway and is being carried out by the chief medical officer in the Department of Health Dr Tony Holohan.