HSE and SCA at Odds over Medical Negligence Court Cases in Ireland

The Director General of the Health Service Executive (HSE) and the State Claims Agency have fallen out over medical negligence court cases in Ireland.

The disagreement over medical negligence court cases in Ireland blew up last week when Tony O´Brien – the Director General of the HSE – told the Oireachtas health committee that the State Claims Agency had an “unrealistic” view about risk and safety in healthcare and was too eager to defend medical negligence claims for compensation.

Saying that the adversarial framework used by the Agency delayed the payment of medical negligence compensation to plaintiffs who had suffered a loss, an injury or the avoidable deterioration of an existing condition deterioration, he asked “why all that trauma for people to get what they need.”

“These cases go on for up to 10 years and the State loses 99 per cent of them,” Mr O´Brien claimed, and he suggested the establishment of a fund that would support a different system of resolving claims for compensation that would not involve the parents of children that had suffered catastrophic birth injuries having to endure medical negligence court cases in Ireland.

While acknowledging that there had to be a level of accountability, Mr O´Brien also claimed that medical negligence court cases in Ireland were also damaging to the healthcare professionals called to give evidence in them. He said that, although the healthcare professionals were not facing criminal prosecution, they had to endure “show trials” when the outcome of the trials was 99 percent likely to be in the plaintiff´s favour.

In response to Mr O´Brien´s testimony to the Oireachtas health committee, the State Claims Agency issued a statement on Thursday evening contesting some of the Director General´s claims. The statement claims that 97 percent of cases are resolved without medical negligence court cases in Ireland and, in those in which liability is contested, the cases are resolved in the Agency´s favour 75 percent of the time.

Just two months ago the State Claims Agency published a review of maternity and gynaecology services in Ireland. In the review it was revealed that the total expenditure on cerebral palsy compensation claims had increased by 77 percent from 2010 to 2014. The large increase in compensation payments was partly attributed to more birth injury compensation claims being resolved with lump sum payments rather than interim compensation payments due to the failure of the Oireachtas to introduce a system of periodic payments.