State mothballed medical negligence study

A government group tasked with finding a transparent alternative to lengthy multimillion-euro medical negligence cases was abruptly mothballed five years ago — over claims a new system would cost too much.

Solicitor Michael Boylan told the Irish Examiner the work of Department of Health’s “birth hypoxia” advisory committee was halted in 2008 after the Department of Finance intervened.

The group, which examined cases identical to yesterday’s €2.6m payout to cerebral palsy sufferer Roisin Conroy, was established in 2004 and asked to find a way to create a “no fault” compensation system for birth-related medical negligence cases.

This system, which multiple members of the group said was close to being completed, would have cut payout costs by encouraging medics to admit immediately when they made mistakes.

Research from the US, Australia, and Canada — where an “open disclosure” system is in place — shows this approach makes it far less likely families will sue, and means they would not be forced to endure battles to find out what went wrong.

However, after the group’s last meeting in April 2008 a Department of Finance official said an actuarial report on the potential costs involved was needed, and raised concerns over the precedent it would set for unrelated legal situations.

Since that time Mr Boylan — who is still a member of the group and represented the Conroys in their €2.6m settlement — said the group and its work has been left in limbo.

It has also meant that instead of being quickly told what happened to their loved ones, families like the Conroys are still facing significantly legal battles to obtain information they have a right to know.

“Our next meeting was scheduled for the next week, and then postponed. I’m still waiting for it five years later,” said Mr Boylan.

“That system would have encouraged a no-fault compensation scheme which involves cases where a mistake occurred and those where one didn’t but a child has still been injured.

“I’d say there’s no hope whatsoever of that system [in the current economy] but there would be one for admitting responsibility when a doctor is at fault. There shouldn’t be a defend and deny attitude.”

Mr Boylan’s comments come after a major conference earlier this month claimed introducing a new “open disclosure” approach to medical negligence cases could save the State €400m a year.

The Department of Health has only recently encouraged a small number of “open disclosure” pilot projects in Irish hospitals.

However, it first backed the approach in a document five years ago, entitled Building A Culture of Patient Safety.


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