8,000 deaths from medical mishaps

THERE may be up to 8,000 deaths every year as a result of medical negligence and medical accidents in Irish hospitals, a major conference on clinical and medical negligence heard yesterday.

Patient Focus’s Jim Reilly said the figure was based on international evidence and indicated that a major culture shift was needed in Ireland’s healthcare system.

The conference was organised by Action Against Medical Accidents (AvMA), supported by Patient Focus.

The patient support groups said a legal “duty of candour” must be enforced so healthcare organisations had to be open and sincere with patients when things went wrong.

Medical negligence legal expert Michael Boylan said international evidence suggested that 4% of Irish patients are injured due to medical accidents. With more than four million hospital admissions or treatments every year, the injury rate of 4% equated to 160,000 patients.

Mr Boylan claimed the State Claims Agency saw its primary, if not sole, responsibility to minimise the financial exposure to the state as a consequence of medical accident claims.

“In this context it is, therefore, not surprising that there is a huge deficit between the policy of ‘openness’ being suggested in publications from the Department of Health, the Health Service Executive and medical organisations and how those ‘policies’ are implemented on the ground,” he said.

The head of the State Claims Agency’s clinical indemnity scheme, Dr Ailis Quinlan, who addressed the conference said the agency endorsed the concept of open communication.

She pointed out that obstetrics accounted for 20% of claims reported to the agency last year and about 60% of the cost involved and that had not changed. Surgery accounted for 23% of claims, while medicine accounted for 22%.

Dr Quinlan said the StarsWeb 2009 statistics showed slips, trips and falls accounted for the majority of incidents reported, at 32%, with treatment incidents accounting for 7% of reported incidents.

“We have always estimated that up to about 150,000 patients a year could be affected, but it is a wide spectrum of incidents ranging from the very, very minor near misses to the catastrophic adverse events, like deaths,” she said.

Dr Quinlan said almost 84,000 adverse events were reported last year.

Of 307,000 incidents notified to the scheme since 2004, 3,754 have resulted in claims being made.

“Last year we had 510 new claims and at any one time we have about 1,500 active claims,” said Dr Quinlan.

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