Justice Minister Helen McEntee has been urged to finally implement new pre-court action protocols to allow families to be paid out more quickly in medical negligence cases.
The protocols would give legal teams on both sides the opportunity to share information and potentially resolve claims sooner, without going to court.
Seven leading Irish health bodies have written to Ms McEntee calling on her to urgently introduce legislation to support this.
There have been a number of drawn-out cases where families faced years of delay in getting their case dealt with, in many cases meaning children missed out on financial support for vital rehabilitation.
A letter sent to the minister was coordinated by the Medical Protection Society and signed by the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Irish Dental Association, Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, Irish College of Ophthalmologists, Faculty of Dentistry RCSI, and Irish College of General Practitioners.
They believe the protocols would lead to “early identification of the issues” and ultimately“more patients would be able to have quicker access to the financial support they need”.
The letter states: “Patients and healthcare professionals experience very high levels of stress when they are party to a claim, greatly exacerbated by how long the litigation process often takes.”
It notes a recent study showed most claimants report “experiencing emotional harm while making a claim” and some patients described the process as “excruciating”.
The letter said these protocols were recommended by a review group chaired by former president of the High Court Peter Kelly, and other expert groups.
“The final step required now is to draft the necessary regulations to formally introduce the pre-action protocols,” the letter said.
“We welcome the Government’s commitment in the 2021 Action Plan to introduce the required pre-action protocol regulations, and we hope that progress can now be made in bringing them forward without further delay.”
The group criticises the high legal costs for all.
In Ireland, only 53% of cases are resolved at pre-action stage in contrast to England and Wales where over 70% of claims are resolved this way, the letter states.
In April, a profoundly disabled 16-year-old girl with cerebral palsy secured a €23.5m settlement over alleged negligence in the circumstances of her birth at St Finbarr’s Hospital, Cork.
Solicitor Emma Meagher Neville, speaking for Kameela Kuye, said it had been achieved following “a long and arduous battle”.
In July, a 22-year-old Cork man, Keith Phelan, with cerebral palsy who sued over the management of his birth, settled his High Court action for €11m.
Solicitor Ciaran McCarthy, on behalf of the family, said: "This has been a long journey and it will make a huge difference to Keith’s life and his family."