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Lack of learning and transparency to blame for rising hospital liabilities
Coleman Legal LLP
Apr 2, 2024

The outstanding liability of Irish hospitals for accidents will likely surpass €4bn this June when fresh figures are to be published. These accidents include infant injury claims and slip and falls in Irish hospitals.

However, medical negligence specialists argue that these numbers could be significantly reduced if hospitals were more forthcoming about their errors. Dave Coleman, managing partner at Coleman Legal LLP, emphasised the importance of transparency from the outset. He suggested that a more open and understanding approach could mitigate the number of cases escalating to court, as patients often seek legal recourse due to dissatisfaction with the treatment received from medical staff and hospital management.

Coleman highlighted the significance of independent scrutiny of serious incidents involving hospital staff, advocating for external investigations over internal ones. He also blamed the lack of learning from past mistakes as a significant factor in this rising burden on taxpayers. He proposed sharing the independent outcomes of reviews and investigations with patients early in order to foster “a culture of understanding.”

As of 2022, the State’s estimated clinical liabilities amount to €3.8 billion. Notably, the proportion of liabilities attributed to “catastrophic” injury cases, such as avoidable injuries and deaths of infants, has been rising rapidly, comprising 16% of the total in 2022, compared to 14% in 2021 and 10% in 2020. Claims for less severe injuries have also been rising, however not at the same rate. For instance, liabilities rose from €984 million in 2021 to €1 billion in 2022.

In 2022, it was revealed by the State Claims Agency (SCA) that there had been a 5% increase in active claims over the past five years. In the same period, the increase in liabilities was much steeper at 57%. The SCA attributed the escalation in estimated liabilities to various factors, including the rising number of catastrophic injury claims and the inflation of general claims. Medical advancements have also impacted liability figures as they lead to increased life expectancy in cases of catastrophic injury.

Recent court cases have shed light on the consequences of medical negligence. For instance, Aliyah Bowden alleged that her autism and ADHD resulted from inadequate care during her birth at Midland Regional Hospital, Portlaoise, in 2013. Although the HSE denied the claims of harm caused to the baby, it acknowledged errors in the delivery process. Following mediation, Bowden settled her claim, with the HSE accepting 40% liability for the incident. She will receive an interim payment of €733,000 for the next eight years.

Keith Rolls Partner Coleman Legal LLP

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