The high cost of medical malpractice for our Health Service Executive

For patients who are clearly harmed by medical negligence a humane and cost-effective redress system must be found

 

Healthcare is not, and never will be an exact science. Unwanted adverse outcomes cannot be eliminated, but can be reduced. Most adverse outcomes are not the result of errors by doctors and nurses; rather they are recognised side-effects of investigations or treatment. However figures provided to this newspaper indicating the Health Service Executive has spent about €367 million in compensation payments for more than 2,000 cases over the past decade are an indication of the scale of the problem.

Specifically some €67 million was paid out in compensation for medical malpractice during birth procedures over the past five years. There was a particular spike in birth-specific payouts in 2013, when compensation rose to almost €25 million.

Obstetrics is a high-risk speciality with the health of both mother and baby at stake. Oxygen deprivation for a baby can be catastrophic, resulting in cerebral palsy, intellectual disability and even death. A child from Cork was last year awarded €13.5 million – the largest personal injury settlement in the history of the State – as a result of brain damage caused at birth.

And the alleged poor management of oxygen deprivation during the births of seven babies at Ballinasloe’s Portiuncula hospital is the subject of an ongoing examination* by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health.

Higher compensation amounts are reflected in an exponential increase in clinical indemnity costs. Obstetricians are effectively uninsurable and would be unable to practise without the cover provided to those in public practice by the State Claims Agency.

There is real concern that some surgical specialities will disappear from private hospitals as clinical indemnity rates continue to climb. A compensation culture and inefficient legal processes have been blamed by doctors organisations.

But an adversarial system described by one father as adopting a “poker approach” to compensating his son with cerebral palsy is absolutely unacceptable. For patients who are clearly harmed by medical negligence a humane and cost-effective redress system must be found.

*This article was amended on March 31st, 2015

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.