‘Systems problems’ blamed as State pays €177m for clinical negligence

Delayed diagnoses, faulty medical devices, missed medication, wrong medical records applied to patients — all feature among the incidents in our hospitals that led to the State paying out €177m in damages between 2010 and 2014.

‘National Clinical Incidents, Claims and Costs’, a five-year report by the State Claims Agency (SCA), says most clinical incidents are related to “systems problems (Swiss cheese effect) rather than to one individual or person”.

Agency director Ciaran Breen said clinical negligence cases “generally speaking do not tend to be reducible to a single causative factor such as a doctor”.

Asked if patients on trolleys featured prominently in reporting of clinical incidents, Mr Breen said while being on a trolley “might be an unsatisfactory situation for patients themselves, we don’t find that clinical claims relate to the fact that you were a patient on a trolley”.

‘Systems problems’ blamed as State pays €177m for clinical negligence

The report notes resolving systems’ problems often has resource implications.

In total over the five-year period, there were 206,717 clinical incidents identified of which 2,870 (1.4%) were classified by the healthcare services as “extreme”, meaning they resulted in death or permanent incapacity.

In total, €289m was paid out over the five years, including €41m in legal fees for the SCA, €65m in plaintiffs’ legal fees and €5m on experts. Total legal fees expressed as a percentage of awards/settlements were almost 60% for this five-year period. However, Mr Breen said legal fees are on a downward trend — at 36% in 2016 — for reasons such as the Corr v Sheehan case where solicitors’ fees were more or less cut in half.


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