Martin ‘jumped gun on scheme start’

HOSPITAL consultants have accused Minister for Health Micheál Martin of jumping the gun by ordering the start of a contentious new medical negligence insurance scheme without their agreement.

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) and the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) are furious that a January 1 start date has been imposed when they believed another month or two of talks would have concluded negotiations on a number of disputed issues.

They claim the issues, if unresolved, will leave doubts over who has responsibility for historical liability, in other words compensation for patients who suffered injury prior to the new scheme coming into operation but are only successful in a court action at a later date.

In that instance, they say patients could be left without compensation.

Some form of industrial action or policy of non-cooperation with the minister’s planned health service reforms under the Hanly Report is now under consideration by both of the groups.

The row over the Clinical Indemnity Scheme, which affects more than 1,600 consultants, centres on the Government’s plan to end the practice of consultants taking out insurance cover with the two private medical insurance companies, the Medical Defence Union and the Medical Protection Society.

The State has for years been funding 80% of the cost of the insurance premiums, totalling about €32 million a year, and the Government believes it will be more cost effective to directly indemnify consultants as it already does with hospitals and non-medical hospital staff.

Talks on the switch-over were taking place almost weekly before Mr Martin called a halt last Friday and told the IHCA and IMO in a letter that the Government had gone to “considerable lengths to meet all the of reasonable concerns which consultants have voiced.

“There is really no basis on which I can ask my colleagues in Government to move any further,” he said, before announcing the MDU and MPS cover would not be renewed after January 1.

Under the new scheme, consultants will have to pay for private insurance for work carried out in private hospitals up to a liability of €1 million, a figure they negotiated down from €2m and were trying to reduce further before Friday’s letter.

The consultants are also angry that the minister is content to leave the question of historical liability to the courts, saying he will back a consultant in a test case against the MDU which claims it does not have the money to bear the full burden of claims arising from the past without continued subscriptions from consultants which will end on January 1.

IHCA general secretary Finbar Fitzpatrick said Mr Martin’s announcement was premature and inexplicable that both outstanding issues had been edging towards resolution.

“Our last meeting with the minister was on November 25 and he gave no indication that this was to start on January 1 with or without our agreement.”

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