More than 50 compensation cases were 'infection control incidents'

MORE than 750 people have made compensation claims after malpractice, misdiagnosis or accidents in Irish hospitals and other public healthcare facilities.

The cases, all of which have been settled during the past three years, saw the taxpayer pay out a total of €42m in damages and legal costs for patients who were given inadequate treatment.

One in six claims related to what has been called a "diagnosis incident", many of which involved a person being incorrectly told what was wrong with them, it has emerged.

The HSE has found itself under severe pressure this year as a result of a number of high-profile cases where a cancer diagnosis was not spotted in time.

More than a quarter of all claims – involving more than 200 people – related to mishaps or mistakes that took place during surgery, the
Sunday Tribune has learned.

According to the figures from the State Claims Agency (SCA) – which manages personal-injury and property-damage claims against the state – 23 complaints were settled where an individual was given either an overdose of medication or the wrong medication altogether.

A worrying trend has also been identified after more than 50 cases were labelled "infection control incidents". It is thought that the majority of these cases related to illnesses contracted whilst in hospital care, most commonly MRSA or Clostridium difficile.

Around 10% of cases – more than 75 instances – involved mothers or new-born infants who made claims on foot of "perinatal" incidents.

According to the SCA, these cases are responsible for the bulk of the compensation payments, particularly where they involve cerebral palsy.

Some 30 cases were also dealt with by the SCA, which involved "consent or confidentiality incidents" according to the data.

These were principally cases where patient information was inadvertently given to the wrong person or where a procedure took place without full consent.

Some 6% of incidents involved slips, trips and falls, the figures from the agency have shown.

The damages and legal costs have shown a significant rise, with payouts increasing from just €6m in 2006 to €25.2m during the course of last year.

SCA director Ciarán Breen said there were serious concerns about the level of legal costs in clinical negligence actions. "We are going to bring some proposals to government in relation to these issues. We believe that legal costs in relation to clinical-negligence actions are disproportionately high when we compare to straightforward cases like employer or public liability.

"In the UK, the NHS litigation service has said for every pound it pays, it costs an additional 47p in terms of those costs. In Ireland, the equivalent figure is between 57% and 60%."

Ciarán Breen also said the agency planned to bring proposals to government to end lump-sum payments for catastrophic incidents, in favour of periodic payments.