The number of Claims against doctors in Ireland in respect of Medical Negligence and of other claims has steadily increased in recent years. In 2011, €81 million was paid out by the HSE to settle claims over medical negligence or hospital error. It is likely that medical negligence and other claims against doctors will continue into the future for a number of reasons.
The number of people with a medical card in Ireland has increased by more than 400,000 between 2008 and 2012. Furthermore, those covered by GP visit cards increased by over 6% between 2011 and 2012. As a result of the increase in numbers of public patients, the workload of GPs has grown considerably. However, on the other hand, the number of private patients has diminished. Due to reduced incomes and growing insurance and other costs relating to GP services, GPs are struggling to maintain a high standard of care for their patients.
This difficulty to maintain appropriate standards of care is becoming acute given that the population is ageing, the increase in health costs, the decrease in available funds to public health services and the growing incidence of chronic disease. This difficulty is to be addressed by the AGM of the ICGP which is to take place in Galway from May 10th to 13th next. Despite the reduction in medical income, GPs have been obliged to maintain their previous staff levels in order to address the increasing number of public patients. As a result of cuts to hospital services, more work has transferred from the hospital sector into general practice.
Furthermore, while doctors, like their patients, are working and struggling to survive in dimishing financial circumstances, GPs have had to cope with patients who are experiencing stress as a result of the recession and its adverse consequences for them. This problem creates its own difficulties for doctors including stress and anxiety and consequently challenges their ability to maintain appropriate and reasonable quality of service.
While it is imperative for doctors to engage in cost efficiency – such as reducing staff or staff hours – in order to address the reduction in income, the dilemma is succeeding in doing so while at the same time maintaining quality of service and preventing medical negligence and other claims.
Head of Health Law Department
Healy O’ Connor Solicitors