The Medical Protection Society (MPS) has seen claims against private hospital consultants increase by more than a third during 2012, prompting growing concerns by the indemnity provider about the impact of clinical negligence claims costs on doctors, the health sector, and the public.
Dr Stephanie Bown, MPS’s Director of Policy and Communications said: “This time last year we were sharing with health stakeholders and government the adverse claims environment we were seeing in Ireland, due to significant increases in the cost of claims, particularly for GPs and dentists. Now we are seeing record levels of claims being notified against private hospital consultants with an increase of more than a third in 2012 compared to 20111.
“It is too early to say whether this is a one-off ‘peak’ in claims for these consultants or something that could continue, but we do know that inflated legal fees are also contributing to the overall claims costs, and that the current system doesn’t allow for cost-effective and speedy resolution of clinical negligence claims.
Impact of legal costs
“The legal costs for claimants in Ireland are some of the highest and most disproportionate we’ve seen across the 40 plus countries where MPS has members. We are hoping that the government’s reforms, including the Legal Services Regulation Bill, are going to make a real difference to curb the excessive legal costs attached to clinical negligence claims. In our experience claimants’ legal costs can be disproportionate to what the patient receives. Our concern is the knock-on effect these costs, coupled with increasing numbers of claims, may have on consultants when considering the affordability of practising.
Need for a more cost effective and efficient system
“One way of reducing these costs would be introducing a system which allows for early dispute resolution, avoiding claims escalating unnecessarily to court, which is where the legal costs start mounting up. As well as minimising the legal costs, a less litigious process would be more effective for patients and doctors, as formal court proceedings can be protracted and stressful. We understand a streamlined, mediation-style process is currently being explored, which if done right, we would warmly welcome.
Professionalism and support for consultants
“We have seen nothing to suggest that the increase in claims against private hospital consultants reflects a drop in professionalism among this group. Similar to the adverse claims environment recently experienced by GPs and dentists in Ireland, we think it’s more to do with high patient expectations and increased risks associated with technology and complex care.
“As well as continuing to provide advice and support to doctors in Ireland when they need it, MPS is increasingly looking at how educational resources such as communication skills programmes and risk management services can benefit its members, and help them reduce the odds of being on the receiving end of a complaint or claim.”
MPS has around 16,000 doctors, dentists and health professional members in Ireland, and more than 280,000 members worldwide.
Notes to editor
- This percentage increase does not include metal-on-metal hip replacement claims, which would distort the figure
- Information about MPS and DPL in Ireland.