Medical consultants’ claims were ‘wildly inaccurate’

I REFER to your excellent feature article (Irish Examiner July, 18 on the problems that arise when trying to devise a fair and equitable system of compensating babies and their families injured due to negligence at birth.

As a lawyer who over the last 20 years has represented families who have found themselves in the most appalling and tragic situations as a result of their child being gravely brain-damaged due to inadequate maternity/obstetric care, I must express my dismay at the comments that were attributed to the two eminent medical consultants quoted in your feature article.

The attempts by these consultants to blame families for taking legal action when their child has been so gravely injured is totally unworthy.

They suggested that the levels of compensation awarded in Ireland were excessive and that these claims may be responsible for closing the Bon Secours maternity hospital, Cork, if they persist.

The claims made by the consultants are wildly inaccurate and no less then an attempt to blame the true victim for exercising their constitutional rights.

I would like to correct these ridiculous statements.

The comment by Dr Waterson, obstetrician, that families who successfully sued when their child had suffered a brain injury at birth were to be compared to ‘lotto winners’ was grossly offensive to the families concerned.

The further suggestion by him that compensation levels in Ireland for birth injury claims were 20 times greater than in Britain was patent nonsense.

I can assure your readers from personal knowledge that the largest ever award for birth injury in this country has been approximately €4.7 million, while the top awards in Britain for similar injuries are around £5m (approx €7.4m).

If you were to ask any parent of a brain-injured infant would they rather €4.7m compensation or a healthy child, I know what the answer would be.

These levels of compensation are not at all excessive when one considers the cost of 24-hour care, housing, etc., and when one realises that the award is to pay for perhaps 50 years of care.

Mr Finbar Fitzpatrick’s suggestion that the Bon Secours maternity hospital may have to close because of the rising costs of malpractice insurance was equally inaccurate and indeed downright mischievous.

As secretary of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, Mr Fitzpatrick must be aware that taxpayers, by virtue of the Government adopting the clinical indemnity scheme, have agreed to fully indemnify all of the obstetricians carrying out a private obstetric practice at the Bon Secours hospital from compensation claims for birth injury.

Do not accept my word for this. Simply look at the website of the State Claims Agency (www.stateclaims.ie) which confirms that the clinical indemnity scheme came into operation from July 1, 2002, and that the state scheme covers the obstetric/gynaecological practices in Mount Carmel hospital, Dublin, and the Bon Secours hospital in Cork.

The website confirms that “a special, more elaborate indemnity arrangement applies in respect of these institutions, ie Mount Carmel, Dublin, and Bon Secours, Cork.”

Thus all obstetricians practising private obstetrics are covered by this State against any award of compensation made for medical malpractice, including babies injured at birth.

In effect, this State has agreed to provide free insurance to the obstetricians, and this includes their private practice.

I wish I were so fortunate that the Government was prepared to pay the cost of my professional indemnity insurance.

Therefore, there can be absolutely no justification for Mr Fitzpatrick’s alarmist statements to the effect that the Bon Secours might have to close due to the rising cost of malpractice claims. His suggestion was that if families pursue their legitimate legal rights when their children have been brain injured, it might result in the closure of an important maternity facility.

It is simply not fair to blame the families who have been the victims of malpractice and who are quite entitled to adequate compensation which they often have to fight for, tooth-and-nail.

Please, let’s have a rational debate and no more wildly inaccurate statements from people who should know better.

Michael Boylan

Solicitor

Augustus Cullen & Son

7 Wentworth Place

Wicklow

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