Crude discussions on economic costs fail to encapsulate the human cost of
The Law Society of Ireland is disputing claims by the Medical Protection Society that legal claims and awards are driving increases in the cost of indemnity insurance for doctors in the private sector.
Speaking at a hearing of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children this week (27 January), Law Society President Kevin O’Higgins said an MPS report on the cost of medical indemnity “contained a number of statements that the Law Society believes are erroneous and misleading.”
“Crude discussions on economic costs fail to encapsulate the human cost of medical negligence. The consequences for a plaintiff and their family arising from a catastrophic medical injury must always be at the forefront,” Mr O’Higgins cautioned.
Rebutting claims by the MPS that responsibility for increases in medical indemnity insurance lies with the legal profession, the Society outlined to the committee the positive impact that adequate resourcing of both the health system and the courts system would have on avoiding and reducing claims, in addition to the processing of them.
Mr O’Higgins said that according to the State Claims Agency, an array of important factors lie behind the recent trends in claims managed by the Agency. These include:
- The expanding remit of the Agency, which now oversees the claims of 117 agencies and bodies,
- The spike in clinical claims in recent years arising from a number of specific actions, including DePuy hip replacements, symphsiotomy claims, and others,
- The effect of 2,500 consultants joining the Agency’s Clinical Indemnity Scheme since February 2004, and
- A recent High Court decision which increased the cap level of general damages in catastrophic injuries to €450,000.
Other contributory factors, queried by Mr O’Higgins, include the extent of private medical cover in Ireland as opposed to other territories, and the expanding range and complexity of medical procedures now being undertaken. He also noted that fees paid to barristers and solicitors by the State Claims Agency had been reduced by 25% in recent years, and plaintiff solicitors experiencing similar if not more pronounced reductions.
Speaking after the hearing, Mr O’Higgins explained that “we need to be clear about what medical negligence claims are for. These are patients who have suffered an injury which may be catastrophic, and which often limits their ability to lead a normal life.”
On the topic of medical negligence reforms, Mr O’Higgins said that the Law Society supports the recommendation of Pre Action Protocols, which would identify issues in dispute at an early stage in proceedings but does not support the MPS in their call for further caps on general and special damages. He added that, “Access to justice, for all parties, is paramount.”
For more information, access the Society’s submission to the Committee.
View the Committee discussion here or via oireachtas.ie.
For details of the Committee meeting on 22 January (with Medical Protection Society, State Claims Agency, Irish Hospital Consultants Association and the Irish Medical Organisation), see the Oireachtas website.