Big concern over doctors' indemnity costs

  • Deborah Condon

The soaring cost of medical indemnity insurance has ‘changed the medical landscape in Ireland', with many consultants leaving the private sector to look for work in other countries, it has been claimed.

Speaking to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) pointed out that the cost of clinical indemnity has doubled in recent years for many specialties, and jumped by an average of 40% last year alone.

The impact of this is that indemnity charges are now at unaffordable levels for some consultants in private practice. An example of this is the fact that there are now no full-time private practice obstetricians in this country as their clinical indemnity would be more than €335,000.

The IHCA believes that other surgical specialties could soon be in the same position as clinical indemnity now costs up to €104,000 - a 100% rise in just two years.

It estimated that more than 20 consultants stopped practicing privately last year because of the indemnity costs involved. More are planning to stop this year as well if this issue is not dealt with.

The IHCA also insisted out that if this issue is allowed to continue, the result will be that fewer patients are treated in private hospitals and at a higher cost. This will lead to more patients availing of public care, which will add to already growing waiting lists.

"The cost of clinical indemnity is now unrealistic and unaffordable for most consultants in private practice. The effects of this are that our highly skilled consultant colleagues are leaving practice for overseas opportunities and others have retired earlier than planned.

"Most importantly the unfolding indemnity crisis will adversely impact on patients, as waiting lists in public hospital for surgery increased by 20% in the past year with catastrophic effects for all patients," consultant orthopaedic surgeon and IHCA council member, Mr Maurice Neligan, told the Oireachtas committee.

Meanwhile also speaking to the committee, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) warned that the fear of litigation has become a major barrier to healthcare professionals apologising or even communicating with patients after an adverse event.

It called on the Government to immediately publish the Health Information Bill, which is intended to provide protection to professionals from admitting liability if they apologise to patients in the case of an adverse event.

"This would be a major step towards promoting open disclosure and changing the culture of adversarial litigation following an adverse even. Rather than focusing on apportioning blame, open disclosure policies should support patients and doctors and focus more on learning from adverse events in order to reduce harm and improve patient safety," commented IMO president, Prof Trevor Duffy.

He also expressed concern about rising indemnity costs and insisted that the majority of healthcare professionals ‘aim to provide the best care for their patients'.

"Rarely harm is due to wilful misconduct, most often harm is due to systems failure or unintentional human error," he told the committee.

 


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