Irish Health Minister outlines reforms centered on patient safety and improvements to complaints and claims process

13 Nov 2015

Less than a week after the Russell appeal (see our analysis here), Irish Ministers have outlined a package of reforms that seek to re-set standards and improve how patients are protected when engaging with health services and how their complaints and legal claims are addressed and ultimately resolved.

The sort of measures to be brought forward may be familiar to those involved in healthcare claims in England and Wales, although it should be borne in mind that superficial similarities arising from the broad headings and areas are of course only that: the detail will be entirely different and very firmly grounded in the specific needs of patients of the Irish healthcare sector.

Legislation will be required to achieve many of the goals set out today (12th November) by Health Minister Varadkar. It is not entirely clear how much of this might be achievable before the next Irish general election, which is due to be held by early April at the latest.

It seems to us that there are three broad headings under which the proposals announced today may be grouped. These are set out in the table below.

BLM shall provide further commentary and analysis on these measures as further materials are issued and announcements are made by the relevant Irish Government Departments and other stakeholders.

Legislation on patient safety:

  • a Health Information & Patient Safety Bill will provide for mandatory reporting of events causing death or serious harm
  • other measures in this Bill will extend the Health Information and Quality Authority’s reach into the private health sector and to high risk cosmetic interventions
  • developing a Patient Safety Licensing Bill for public and private healthcare providers alike
  • enacting the Medical Practitioners Bill – probably before the election – to require that all practising doctors give evidence of indemnity arrangements when registering with the regulator (The Medical Council)

General patient safety measures, at national level:

  • establishing a Patient Safety Office, in the Department of Health, accountable to Ministers and an Independent Advisory Council
  • establishing a Patient Advocacy Service to provide advice and information directly to patients
  • running a Patient Safety Surveillance System, an annual Patient Experience survey and ad hoc Patient Safety campaigns
  • simplifying complaints processes and considering broadening the scope of the Ombudsman across the health sector

Legislation about claims and litigation:

  • introducing the necessary legislation to allow courts to order index-linked periodic payment orders (Department of Justice and Equality lead)
  • mandatory use of Pre-Action Protocols in medical negligence claims in order to reduce delay and legal costs and deliver better and earlier case outcomes (Department of Justice and Equality lead)
  • open disclosure (superficially, not unlike the UK’s “duty of candour”) to be supported and promoted (it is proposed to do this via the periodic payment legislation)

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Disclaimer: This document does not present a complete or comprehensive statement of the law, nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight issues that may be of interest to customers of BLM. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in any particular case.

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