Watchdog could be given power to close hospitals

Licensing system for hospitals proposed by Simon Harris

Minister for Health Simon Harris: says it is recognised the delivery of healthcare is an “inherently risky activity” and it is inevitable things may go wrong on occasion. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Providing healthcare is an "inherently risky activity" and up to 16 per cent of patients admitted to the State's hospitals may be experiencing adverse events, Minister for Health Simon Harris has suggested.

In a confidential memorandum to the Cabinet, which is to be considered by Ministers today, Mr Harris proposes a system under which all hospitals and facilities providing high-risk clinical services would have to be licensed by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa).

The safety watchdog would be given powers to cancel the licence of a hospital or clinic – effectively shutting them down – or to apply conditions to their operation if it is deemed necessary in the public interest. It would be an offence for a hospital to be operated without a licence.

In the memo to Government, Mr Harris says it is recognised the delivery of healthcare was an “inherently risky activity” and that it was inevitable things would go wrong on occasion.


"Studies of adverse events worldwide demonstrate that between 4 per cent and 16 per cent of patients admitted to hospitals experience one or more adverse events, of which up to half are preventable. Ireland is not out of sync with these statistics. Such incidents directly affect patients and families while the associated costs are also of concern."

Learning from mistakes

Mr Harris says the ability of the health service to learn from mistakes and system errors required improvement.

“Hiqa reports identify that limited progress has been made in implementing recommendations from previous major patient safety investigations following the harm or deaths of patients,” the document says.

However, the proposed licensing regime would not come into effect until 2021 – 12 years after former minister for health Mary Harney first announced plans for a licensing system for hospitals in line with the recommendations of the Commission on Patient Safety and Quality Assurance.

The memo suggests that it cost more than €350 million to deal with 2,809 patient-safety claims between 2012 and last year.

Mr Harris says in the memo while not all harm could be prevented, much could be done to prevent it, identify it where it occurred, take action to mitigate its effects and to learn lessons.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent