New measures to speed up the processing of medical negligence cases and cut legal costs will be introduced by the end of the year, according to the Minister for Health Leo Varadkar.
Legislative changes would include the introduction of pre-action protocols and periodic payment orders to the victims of medical negligence, Mr Varadkar told delegates at the Irish Medical Organisation conference in Kilkenny.
Issues relating to birth defect payouts would also be examined.
Consultant members of the IMO had earlier warned the Minister of an escalating crisis over rising indemnity costs for doctors.
“We have no problem with the right awards being made to patients but please do something about the legal costs,” said Dr Assam Ishtiaq, a private sector consultant in Waterford, who claimed 67 per cent of settlements went on legal costs.
Ireland’s legal system was very expensive, he said, and “the Four Courts” had remained immune from the pay cuts that affected other parts of society.
Dr Ishtiaq cited the payment of a € 100,000 brief fee and € 3,000 daily fees in a recent medical negligence case. He said another case had taken 60 days to resolve when it should have been settled in six.
Many consultants nearing retirement were getting out early because of the pressure of indemnity costs, while others were curtailing private work where the costs of cover were no longer affordable, he said.
Another consultant, David O’Gorman, predicted private surgical practice in Ireland would be “extinct” within three years because of rising costs.
On the issue of outpatient waiting lists, which this week passed the 400,000 mark, Mr Varadkar repeated that he has told the HSE that by the summer, no patient should be waiting for more than 18 months on the list.
However, he admitted difficulties are emerging with this target. “It’s looking harder the more they drill down, particularly in some specialties”.
Mr Varadkar told consultants he was “open to suggestions” for new initiatives to cut waiting lists. He said he wanted to avoid the temptation of throwing money at the problem to make the numbers go down.