The Irish Times view on medical errors: The need to open up

Government has thus far failed to make meaningful changes recommended by Scally

The system for dealing with medical errors in the Republic is deeply flawed, according to CervicalCheck report author, Dr Gabriel Scally. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell

The system for dealing with medical errors in the Republic is deeply flawed, according to CervicalCheck report author, Dr Gabriel Scally. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell

 

The system for dealing with medical errors in the Republic is deeply flawed, according to CervicalCheck report author Dr Gabriel Scally. In scathing comments last week, he described the process that follows an adverse medical outcome as “the legal system takes an error and converts it into an injustice, and then converts that into a financial sum”. However, in order for patients to find the truth, they are left with no option but to take legal action, he said.

Scally is not the first to point out how dysfunctional and opaque the process of getting to the truth is. Others have suggested simple solutions, such as no-fault compensation schemes and agreed expert evidence to improve outcomes for patients and their families. Apart from appointing an expert group on clinical negligence, chaired by Mr Justice Charles Meenan (which has issued an interim report), the Government has regrettably failed to take the kind of steps that could make an immediate difference to the experience of plaintiffs. There is clearly a need for fundamental legislative reform and this is rightly the purview of the expert group on clinical negligence.

There must be a simple, transparent method to address the effects of medical harm when it occurs. Patients want to be told the truth about what happened, receive an apology, and be assured the same thing will not happen again to someone else.

Individuals wronged by medical practice should not have to take costly and protracted action through the courts system at a difficult and often traumatic time in their lives. Just how challenging this can be has been bravely outlined by Vicky Phelan and other victims of the CervicalCheck debacle.

As well as introducing a no-fault system for the restitution of medical harm, a strict open disclosure policy must be enforced within the health service. Reform will also offer financial benefits to the exchequer and reduce barriers to medical recruitment. And vested interests must no longer be allowed to delay meaningful reform in this important area.

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