Out-of-court childbirth compo group stalled

AN EXPERT group set up by the Department of Health to examine the possibility of taking childbirth litigation cases out of the courts service has not met in over 18 months.

Yet the Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association (IHCA) has said that Irish obstetricians are facing mounting legal actions, leading to millions in damages and costs, which are “making private obstetrics practically uninsurable”.

Parents are also complaining that it can take up to 15 years for cases to be heard and that they are facing protracted battles with enormous legal costs.

The ‘No Fault’ Advisory Group, chaired by the former Master of the Rotunda, Dr Peter McKenna, first met in June 2001 and was due to report by late 2002.

However in late 2003, due to IHCA industrial action, the meetings were postponed as consultants were refusing to cooperate with voluntary Department of Health committees.

Consultant obstetrician at the Rotunda and Mater Hospitals, Dr McKenna said yesterday he was disappointed the group hadn’t met. “We were making progress in a difficult area,” he said.

In the ‘no fault’ or automatic compensation scheme which the group is charged with examining, those eligible would be awarded compensation without having to prove liability. Members of the advisory group say one of the primary benefits would be that legal costs for both sides could be reduced by as much as 40%.

Law Society Representative on the advisory group Michael Boylan said the Department of Finance didn’t have the “stomach” to set up an automatic compensation scheme, saying that the faults-based system is cheaper for the State.

With the faults-based system, there is on average 12 cases every year out of about 150 cerebral palsy births a year. The majority aren’t suing whereas with a no fault scheme, that number is likely to rise by maybe tenfold,” he said.

Just days ago, the Government decided against an automatic compensation scheme for psychiatric nurses injured at work even though the measure was recommended by a taskforce report.

They objected on the grounds of financial implications and pressure to extend such a scheme across the wider public sector

A Department of Health spokesman last night confirmed that the group had not met in plenary session since late 2003.

“A delegation did meet with senior advisors from the NHS in Leeds in February 2004 to discuss the findings of a British report in the area. We do not know when the committee will meet again but we hope to begin work at the end of the year,” he said.

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