Figures released by the State Claims Agency indicated that, in the past five years, medical negligence claims against the HSE have nearly doubled.
The State Claims Agency have recently reported that last year, just under a thousand service medical negligence claims had been made against the HSE in the High Court. This figure is nearly double that reported in 2010. On top of these numbers, the State Claims Agency has to deal with more than 3,000 previous claims dating back from before 2014, and another 218 claims that have already been lodged this year.
However, these 936 health service medical negligence claims fails to include claims made in both the District and Circuit Courts. It also does not address public liability claims for accidents to visitors to hospitals, nor employer liability claims when employees are involved in accidents in Irish hospitals.
The number of claims is expected to rise even further following the Hiqa report into failings at the Portlaoise Hospital, and several high-profile cases involving Irish maternity care. The report caused the chief of the HSE-Tony O’ Brien- to call for a “clear-out of uncompassionate staff”. However, Leo Varadkar, current Health Minister, states that the “wall of silence” is responsible for the huge increase in the number of claims.
Leo Varadkar has previously criticised an “open disclosure” initiative in the HSE and State Claims Agency, first implemented in 2013. According to Varadkar, the initiative was failing to work, as hospital managers were neglecting to fully engage with patients who claimed to have had negative experiences while at hospital. In order to receive answers to their queries about what went wrong with their procedures, they are forced to go to court, due to this lack of engagement.
“When something goes wrong, it’s OK to say that you’re sorry about what happened”, Minister Varadkar said to the press. “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 currently writing legislation to reinforce the open disclosure policy among Irish hospitals. This is hoped to help healthcare professionals engage with their patients, passing on vital information to them, without prejudicing future health service medical negligence claims.