More patients suing due to recession


MEDICAL NEGLIGENCE claims against doctors and hospitals are increasing because of the recession, according to the State Claims Agency.

The agency is forecasting a 27 per cent rise in claims this year, with litigation relating to the defective DePuy hip replacements accounting for much of the increase. Already last year, claims started increasing for the first time since the introduction of the clinical indemnity scheme in 2002. The agency received 542 claims last year, up from 504 in 2010. In the first half of this year, however, 345 claims have been submitted.

The increased willingness of patients to sue is being blamed on the economic downturn. “It appears that people, injured as a result of a medical negligence event, are more likely to sue doctors, dentists and hospitals in these more difficult economic times,” said Ciaran Breen, director of the agency. The trend highlighted the need for hospitals, despite their funding pressures, to prioritise the resourcing of clinical risk management, said Mr Breen, writing in the newsletter of the Clinical Indemnity Scheme.

Although clinical claims represent only a minority of those handled by the agency – the rest arise from employer liability and public liability – in value terms they account for almost 90 per cent of claims. Last year the agency was managing €860 million in clinical claims and paid €97.5 million in settlements.

Obstetrics claims, though accounting for only 25 per cent of clinical claims, represent 60 per cent of the total liability. This is because of the high values of settlements associated with cerebral palsy and other birth-related claims.

The agency has also warned that the recent judgment of the High Court in a case brought by a survivor of symphysiotomy will have significant implications for hospitals and clinicians.

Clinical claims manager Zoe Richardson said such cases would previously have been considered statute-barred due to the length of time that had passed. Last March, the court found that a symphysiotomy procedure carried out on an 18-year-old woman when having her first baby in 1969 was “entirely unjustified and unwarranted” and awarded damages of €450,000.

This judgment was upheld by the Supreme Court although it reduced the damages payable to Olivia Kearney for what happened at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda to €325,000.