Payouts spike due to cancer scandals; €158m paid to victims of medical negligence in 2018

The CervicalCheck scandal has contributed to a dramatic increase in costly medical negligence cases being taken against the State in the first half of this year.

Figures obtained by the Irish Examiner show that, between January and June, €158m was paid to victims of malpractice.

The figures were released by the State Claims Agency (SCA), the public body which deals with all negligence claims taken.

Ruth Morrissey

The revelations come in the wake of devastating testimony to the High Court this week telling how seven-year-old Libby Morrissey asked her mother, Ruth, who has terminal cancer, not to die.

Yesterday, the agency confirmed it is willing to enter mediation in Ms Morrissey’s case — she is suing over alleged misinterpretation of her cervical smear tests.

It said it has written to the two laboratories, co-defendants in the case, requesting they join the SCA in resuming mediation talks with Ms Morrissey’s legal team as soon as possible.

The Morrisseys issued a stinging statement last night through their solicitor, Cian O’Carroll. They state that they were deeply hurt by this move by the SCA, saying it was only interested in mediation because of the media focus on their case.

According to the Morrisseys, the State rejected several dates for mediation and only agreed to it this week after the judge called on both sides to consider the move.

The statement reads: “At mediation, a woman who is gravely ill, together with her distraught husband, were required to wait around for almost four hours of ‘mediation’ during which not a single cent was offered.”

It states that, despite four days of gruelling and harrowing testimony — during which Paul Morrissey broke down describing how his daughter asks Ruth her terminally ill mother “please don’t die, I love you, don’t leave me” — there was no effort to engage in settlement negotiations.

“Now on a Friday evening and without even showing the respect to inform Ruth or Paul of their press statement, the State Claims Agency seeks to give an altogether different impression to the general public of their role in this shameful case to date,” says the statement.

A parliamentary question asked by Fianna Fáil’s finance spokesman, Michael McGrath, reveals the pressure the state agency is under to control costs.

In 2017, the SCA paid out €285m in compensation, up from €127.2m in 2013 — a hike of 124%. The €285.59m total was a 22% increase on the €233.1m payout in 2016 which was, in turn, an 11% increase on the €210m paid out on 2015.

The estimated final bill for the outstanding claims being handled by the agency has spiked by a third, from €2.2bn 18 months ago to €2.9bn. This is in relation to 10,702 active claims.

To illustrate the spike in costs, in 2014, the estimated figure for outstanding claims stood at €1.5bn, relating to 7,221 claims.

Of the €2.9bn figure, €2.5bn relates to medical negligence claims, with 6,333 cases active.

Mr McGrath described the situation as “completely unsustainable”.

“In relation to CervicalCheck, the Government made a commitment that this would be handled in a non-adversarial manner. That clearly isn’t happening and we are seeing sick women, some terminally ill women, having to go to court,” he said.

On the spike in the overall bill, Mr McGrath said the trend needs to be questioned.

“It will come as a major shock to many people that the Government is sitting on a compensation bill of €3bn,” he said.

“The rate of increase in the number of cases and estimated costs does require the Government to investigate why it is happening.”

Another spike in payouts is likely as 14 new cases involving women affected by the CervicalCheck scandal have been lodged in the High Court over the past month.

The new figures show that of the €158mn paid out so far, €134.3 million related to clinical medical negligence while the other €24m related to general medical negligence.

Last month, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was told by the HSE that the number of confirmed cases affected by the CervicalCheck scandal had risen from 209 to 221 and it is understood the newly lodged cases in the High Court are contained in this group.

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