Will Irish healthcare issues cause an increase in medical negligence claims?

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A recent report in the Irish Times has highlighted the pressures placed on junior doctors in Ireland and the potential this creates for mistakes in healthcare and medical negligence. With the health deficit now at €270 million, the chances of this problem being remedied soon are unlikely; the HSE must focus on correcting the overrun. Taoiseach Enda Kenny maintains that the impact of this on front line services must be minimised absolutely, but the question must be asked as to whether these mounting difficulties will lead to sub-standard care for patients, a concern for medical negligence solicitors and their clients.

Overworked doctors and medical negligence compensation

Dermot Bowden, a surgical senior house officer in an Irish hospital commented in the Irish Times last week that “punishing hours” for junior doctors are “putting patients at risk”. He speaks of the exhaustion of these doctors and the potential this creates for getting things wrong in healthcare.  The Irish Times reports that cash strapped hospitals are relying on such doctors to get things done, while payment for their hours seems to be at the whim of management. Another doctor interviewed in the article worked 8am Monday morning until Tuesday evening with only one hour spent sleeping. He was “expected back on the wards again at 8am on Wednesday”. He spoke of people “drifting into the wrong lane while driving home”. There is no doubt that these doctors cannot serve their patients to the best of their ability under the pressure of such exhaustion. The implications of medical negligence are too serious to ignore, one mistake could cause a life altering injury for a patient.

Medical claims and injuries in Ireland*

It is against this backdrop of spending cuts and overworked doctors that the number of clinical claims in the first six months of 2012 has increased compared with previous years. This is the first time that this has happened since the setting up of the clinical indemnity scheme in 2002. A link is suggested between tough economic times and a higher rate of medical claims. It appears that people may be more likely to make a claim after a medical negligence event in a difficult economic climate. All the more reason, the Clinical Indemnity Scheme’s newsletter argues, that clinical risk management must remain a priority for the health sector, despite funding pressures.

A medical negligence injury can have devastating results for a patient and as acknowledged by the HSE, the current emphasis on cost containment may risk compromising good clinical governance. We can only hope that our medical professionals can cope with the spending cuts and long hours to give Irish patients the level of care they deserve.

* In contentious business a solicitor may not calculate fees or other charges as a percentage or proportion of any award or settlement.

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