Belfast Telegraph

Patient Safety Bill measures ‘could lead to reduction in litigation’

The new Patient Safety Bill legislation for mandatory open disclosure for patients could save the HSE money.

The new Patient Safety Bill legislation for mandatory open disclosure for patients could save the HSE money, the Oireachtas Health Committee has heard.

The committee met with the Chief Medical Officer for the Department of Health Dr Tony Holohan, head of Patient Safety Policy and Advocacy David Keating, and Patient Safety and Advocacy policy officer Elizabeth Adams to scrutinise the new legislation.

The bill provides for the mandatory open disclosure of serious patient safety incidents to the people who have been affected.

Examples of serious patient safety incidents include wrong site surgery, patient death or serious harm associated with a diagnostic error, or errors that emerge in screening programmes and maternal deaths.

The committee heard that doctors who fail to comply with open disclosure face summary and indictment sanctions, including fines and potential imprisonment.

It is hoped that mandatory disclosure will help rebuild trust between patients and doctors in the wake of scandals including the Scally Report into the misreporting of cervical cancer results this year and the death of children at Port Laois Hospital in 2014.

Chair of the committee, Independent TD Michael Harty, raised concerns that due to the spectre of sanctions, doctors may perform unnecessary examinations and perform “defensive medicine” to avoid litigation, therefore increasing the cost to the health service.

Dr Holohan agreed the issue could be raised, however, practice in other jurisdictions proves otherwise.

He said: “There is a lot of literature available on this issue, and what it points to is a situation whereby when disclosure happens, when trust and confidence is maintained, it actually reduces the likelihood of litigation.

“Other jurisdictions demonstrate a reduction of litigation, I know there’s a fear that in making disclosures individuals are contributing to their own legal risk, but we think that may be counter-intuitive.

“If disclosure happens in every circumstance, it may actually contribute to a reduction in medical litigation.”

The cost of the implementation of the bill has not yet been estimated, Labour TD Alan Kelly raised concerns adding the implementation would be a “mammoth task that has to happen quickly”.

He said: “This is priority for us as a country, I’m not confident that the resources are going to be there to implement this, I’m not confident this is going to be doable in the time required.”

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Dr Gabriel Scally holds a copy of the Report of the Scoping Inquiry into the CervicalCheck Screening Programme (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mr Keating noted that an additional 3.4 million euro had been give in last year’s budget before Dr Holohan admitted resources are not at the level they would want them to be.

He said: “I can give you assurances we will do the best we can, planning has already started and it’s an ongoing process.

“Resourcing is not where we want it to be, we have to make a case overall for whatever available public funding there is to support and ensure adequate priority is given to this, in line with competing interests.”

Minister for Health Simon Harris is to appear before the committee next week to further discuss the bill, which was published in line with the recommendations contained in the recent report by Dr Gabriel Scally.

The Minister said following the committee meeting: “Today is a really important day as the Patient Safety Bill goes to Oireachtas Health Committee for scrutiny.

“This Bill will be a significant milestone in embedding a culture of change within the Irish health service.”

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