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The report made a number of recommendations, including that the Government should require parties to consider mediation or other alternative dispute mechanisms at an early stage in medical negligence cases in order to curb indemnity costs. It also suggested that the medical indemnity lower cap be reduced to €250,000 and for the higher cap to be reduced to €500,000 to help ease the pressure on private consultants, and that consultants with low numbers of claims be rewarded with lower premia.
In response to the report, ICO CEO Ms Siobhan Kelly said the significant rise in the cost of medical indemnity cover for doctors in Ireland is a serious concern and has already led to some clinicians making the decision to cease medical practice.
“This situation will continue if there is no change. The ICO support the call for procedural reform in the legal process which addresses personnel injury claims, including pre-action protocols, periodic payment orders and limitations on the size of damages,” she said.
“The introduction of open disclosure is to be supported, however, it must be possible for practitioners to apologise without it being used in court against them and we urge the introduction of the necessary protections to make this possible.
“Doctors work in very challenging environments where there is little room for error. It must be recognised that mistakes can occur without intentional negligence on the part of medical teams and while adverse events are very traumatic for patients, so too are they for medical staff where harm is often as a result of systems failure or unintentional error,” Ms Kelly said.
She added that the focus must be on supporting patients and doctors and on learning from adverse events to improve patient safety: “We also encourage the exploration of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms so that claims can be resolved without the need to go to court.”
The ICO has stated that it would welcome the lowering of the caps but only if this translates into reduced premiums for private consultants, citing that consultants in private practice provide an essential service in the provision of healthcare in Ireland and significantly ease the burden on an already stretched public system.
The College is calling on TDs and Senators to address the issues raised in the report as soon as possible.