Studies conducted in several developed countries have established beyond question that medical error is a serious issue. These studies suggest that anywhere between 4% and 12% of patients may suffer an adverse event while in hospital. Some caution needs to be exercised in interpreting data from these studies as the definitions and the methodologies used vary. There are no comparable data for Irish hospitals because no such study has been carried out here. The figure of 14,000 possible deaths and injuries used in the "Prime Time" programme transmitted in December is produced from an extrapolation of the findings of the landmark Harvard medical malpractice study to Irish hospitals. I have made the point that the Harvard study data indicate that medical error is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.
All of the studies undertaken on medical error suggest that many of these errors are preventable and could be avoided through good risk management. The Government has put significant resources into clinical risk management over the past three years. In that time in excess of €10 million has been allocated to health boards and hospitals under this heading. Several health boards have developed and implemented clinical risk management strategies. Most acute hospitals have appointed at least one clinical risk manager. Risk management has also been established as a key component of the clinical indemnity scheme. All agencies covered by the scheme are in the course of being supplied with a state of the art IT system which will allow them to report and analyse adverse events and claims. Ireland is the first country to have put such a system in place on a national basis. I expect that it will make a major contribution to enhancing patient safety in Irish hospitals. Officials of my Department are discussing with the health research board how the data generated by the system might be used in appropriate research projects.
The Medical Practitioners Act 1978 established the Medical Council as the body responsible for the registration and regulation of the activities of medical practitioners. In point 5 of its document Medical Council Statement of Core Policies 2000, the council makes adequate indemnity insurance a clear requirements for those registered. Where doctors working in a private capacity are concerned, patients are advised to take additional care to satisfy themselves that a doctor has satisfactory cover in place at the time that they are treated.
Draft legislative proposals providing for further, wide-ranging amendments to the 1978 Act are in the final stages of preparation in my Department following extensive consultation, and draft heads of a Bill are due to be brought to Cabinet in the very near future. One of the primary concerns of the amending legislation will be to provide for increased public protection.