A high-powered group set up nine years ago to advise health minister Mary Harney on a 'no-fault' compensation scheme for children who suffer brain damage at birth has failed to compile a report after nine years.
The proposed scheme, being examined, would mean that parents would not have to go through a lengthy and costly court process of seeking compensation. However, it could end up doubling the amount of compensation paid to cerebral palsy sufferers from €35m to €70m.
When asked in the Dáil last week about her plans for a no-fault scheme, Harney said she would "await the group's report before giving further consideration to a wider no-fault compensation scheme for the health services".
But a member of the advisory group expressed surprise at the minister's statement.
"That's news to me," said solicitor Michael Boylan who was appointed to the group in 2001 by the Incorporated Law Society because of his experience in handling medical negligence cases.
"The group hasn't met in over two years and the last meeting was cancelled without any explanation. The group was very close to a consensus on the need for a 'no-fault' compensation scheme for children who suffer serious brain damage through medical negligence," Boylan told the Sunday Tribune.
A health spokesman explained last week that the group initially experienced delays in its work because of "industrial relations issues associated with the clinical indemnity scheme for consultants in 2004" and met regularly then between 2006 and 2008.
"The group has been unable to complete its report due to the pressure of work in other areas since 2008. However it is intended to reconvene the group to facilitate the completion of its work," explained the spokesman.
But Michael Boylan said he had heard nothing about work pressure or any plans to reconvene.
The group is headed by Dr Peter McKenna, former master of the Rotunda hospital and also includes Fergus Clancy, currently CEO of the Mater Private Hospital.
Around 180 children born every year are affected by cerebral palsy and 15% or around 30 are as a result of events at or near birth. The remainder are attributed to other factors.
The benefit of a 'no fault' scheme is that it would cut out costly legal fees which can run to close to €1m out of an average €4m award as well as making it easier for the parents.