Health Disclosure Bill 2016: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for a procedure to facilitate the disclosure of a patient safety incident; and to provide for related matters.

As we know, medicine is not an exact science and neither is midwifery. When medical professionals meet a patient they take the patient's history, examine the patient, carry out tests and then use their professional judgment to make a diagnosis. Sometimes this professional judgment is wrong. It does not mean the person is a bad doctor or a bad midwife, but that the person has called it wrong. This is the nature of medicine; it is a judgment call. It does not necessarily mean every mistake is negligent.

To put it in context, if someone walks out in front of a car and is seriously injured, the driver is not the one at fault even though it was his or her car who hit the pedestrian. However, if the driver drives away from the scene of such an incident, there is an issue of liability. This is what we allow in the health profession at present. It happens every day. Approximately 60 complaints a day are received by the HSE on medical issues. These patients are being effectively abandoned by the system in place at present because of the lack of management of these cases. People are then forced into taking legal action, and must sue the hospital and medical professionals to find out what happened, what went wrong and how to have the situation rectified. We have a defensive system in this country, which is inhumane and insensitive and forces people through the legal system.

Every year about 17,500 people are admitted to hospital because they have been prescribed medicine in error. About 160,000 patients are injured within our health system every year. The majority of them do not take claims and many of them do not even know a mistake has been made, yet we have this culture of cover-up, denial and putting people, especially parents of profoundly disabled children, through an adversarial legal process for years upon years before they can get answers and resources to deal with the needs of their child.

It is interesting that a survey of doctors conducted by the Medical Council showed that only half would report instances of significantly impaired or incompetent colleagues. That is a damning indictment of the profession and of the culture that is there at the moment. Where there has been irreversible health damage, we need to admit mistakes. We need to outline what we can do to alleviate or rectify the problem and to ensure that if compensation is required, this compensation is paid over without this policy of defence and denial, which exists within our medical profession at the moment.

In fairness to the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, he was committed to the approach I have proposed in this legislation, as was his predecessor, the former Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly. However, last November the Minister decided to introduce a voluntary scheme, whereby there would be voluntary disclosure, which could not form part of a legal case down the road. There should be a legal responsibility on every medical professional, if they make a mistake, to hold up their hands and admit it, to face the patient and explain to them what went wrong, how this issue can be rectified or addressed and how we can ensure it will never happen again. I do not think that is too much to ask. Much evidence, particularly in the US, shows that people are less likely to bring legal cases when that approach is taken. At the moment, there are 2,844 cases before the State Claims Agency, with a potential cost of €1.1 billion, in respect of medical claims alone. Would it not be far better if that money were spent on front-line health services, rather than on defending indefensible legal cases?

Is the Bill opposed?

No, it is not being opposed.

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.