The number of medical negligence claims against the HSE has almost doubled over the past five years according to figures released by the State Claims Agency.
According to recently released data, 936 new medical negligence claims against the HSE were lodged with the High Court last year – almost double the number reported in 2010. In addition to these new cases, and 218 already lodged in 2015, the State Claims Agency is already dealing with more than 3,000 historical medical negligence claims against the HSE dating back to 2013 or earlier.
The true number of medical negligence claims against the HSE is likely to be much higher than that reported by the State Claims Agency, as it fails to take into account proceedings issued in lower courts, public liability claims for accidents in hospitals and employer liability claims when medical staff are injured while working in Irish Hospitals.
Issues with maternity services have recently come under the spotlight following the publication of the Hiqa report into failings at the Portlaoise Hospital. The damming report prompted HSE chief Tony O´Brien to call for a “clear-out of uncompassionate staff”, but Health Minister Leo Varadkar believes that a “wall of silence” is to blame for the spiralling increase in medical negligence claims against the HSE.
Minister Varadkar said that an “open disclosure” initiative by the HSE and State Claims Agency – which was implemented to handle grievances by patients – was failing to work and, rather than being contained within a hospital, patients who had a negative experience were going to the courts to get answers to what went wrong because hospital management are failing to engage with them.
The Minister added: “When something goes wrong, it’s OK to say that you’re sorry about what happened. It does not mean you’re accepting liability. There is a never a good reason to conceal the truth from a patient or their family once the facts are known. Aside from making sense from a human point of view, it’s the right thing to do financially”.
The Department of Health is said to be drawing up legislation to underpin the policy of open disclosure in the Health Service and to enable healthcare employees to provide information to patients and their families without prejudicing any future medical negligence claims against the HSE.