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New law ‘won’t criminalise’ doctors – DoH

The Patient Safety Bill does not intend to “impose criminal penalties on individual health professionals on a personal basis”, with regard to open disclosure obligations, the Department of Health has informed the Medical Independent (MI).

Its spokesperson said the Bill will oblige health service providers to engage in open disclosure, but added healthcare professionals “do have an obligation” to undertake disclosure “when required”.

The Bill will require mandatory open disclosure of certain serious patient safety incidents, recognising the “gravity of the harm to patients and their families” following these occurrences.

“Health services providers will also be required to notify these incidents to the relevant regulator for the purpose of system-wide learning and improvement.”

A health service provider guilty of an offence will be subject to a summary conviction with penalties in the form of a fine.

According to the Department, the legislation will “build on the foundations” provided by the Oireachtas in relation to open disclosure, as set out in the Civil Liability (Amendment) Act 2017. This Act provides certain protections for healthcare professionals to engage “openly and provide comprehensive information about the incident at an open disclosure meeting”.

In an interview with MI, RCSI President Mr Ken Mealy emphasised that open disclosure was a professional obligation, but he voiced concern over making it mandatory.

“We [in RCSI] do not believe that mandatory open disclosure, with or without legal sanctions, will lead to the kind of culture change that is necessary. Open disclosure will become a part of medical practice if it relates to our understanding of medical professionalism and through education which occurs in a non-adversarial setting,” Mr Mealy said.

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