Dáil Éireann - Volume 591 - 28 October, 2004

Written Answers. - Clinical Indemnity Scheme.

  23. Mr. Sherlock asked the Tánaiste and Mini[461] ster for Health and Children the progress which has been made by the working group on the development of a no-fault compensation system for birth-damaged children; when she expects the group to report; if she will seek to expedite the introduction of proposals in this area, having regard to the recent awards in the High Court and the increasing difficulties facing practitioners and especially obstetricians in finding insurance cover; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26317/04]

  29. Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she has proposals for a no-fault compensation scheme for children brain damaged as a result of an obstetrical accident. [26193/04]

  Ms Harney: I propose to take Questions Nos. 23 and 29 together.

The advisory group examining the desirability of introducing a “no fault” compensation scheme for infants who suffered cerebral damage at, or close to, the time of birth made substantial progress in its work programme up to the end of 2003. It had completed the bulk of its research, including an examination of no-fault schemes in other jurisdictions. It also had the benefit of presentations by legal and medical experts from Ireland and abroad. Representatives of parents of children with cerebral palsy had also made a presentation to the group. The drafting of some chapters of the group’s report had been allocated to a number of subgroups of the main group. The decision to include claims against consultants in the clinical indemnity scheme from 1 February 2004 has delayed the completion of the group’s report. Consultants have withdrawn from ministerial committees and working groups. Therefore, it has not been possible to complete the group’s report. I hope that when the difficulties surrounding the clinical indemnity scheme are resolved this group will be able to resume its deliberations immediately and complete its task as soon as possible.

While I would like to see the group produce a report quickly, I do not believe that this has any adverse impact on the affordability of indemnity cover for consultants. Consultants now have all of their practice in public hospitals, including their private practice, covered by the clinical indemnity scheme. In addition, the Government has put special arrangements in place to ensure that indemnity cover for consultants in full time private practice and for any private practice undertaken by public consultants which is not covered by the clinical indemnity scheme remains affordable. Consultant obstetricians are required to only purchase indemnity for the first €500,000 of any claim against them. There is also a protection against the cost of serial claims against any consultant in any one year. As a result, a consultant in full time private practices is paying €100,000 per annum rather the full economic cost of €350,000 for indemnity cover. This is a clear [462] demonstration of the Government’s commitment to dealing with this issue.

  24. Mr. Stagg asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding her discussions with the Irish Hospital Consultants Association regarding the proposed new system of medical insurance; if the commitment she gave to the recent IHCA conference in Kilkenny that no hospital consultant would be left without cover and no patient without redress still holds; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26318/04]

  Ms Harney: Discussions are continuing with the Irish Hospital Consultants Association and the Irish Medical Organisation on aspects of the coverage of claims against consultants by the clinical indemnity scheme. The major concern of both organisations is that there should be no doubt as to the position of consultants facing personal injury claims arising from events which occurred prior to the inception of the scheme. The Government’s position on this matter has always been clear. The clinical indemnity scheme should not have to cover claims where insurance companies or mutual indemnity bodies had accepted premiums or subscriptions to cover these claims. This position is accepted by all of the insurers and indemnity bodies with the exception of the Medical Defence Union. The MDU has written to several of its former consultant obstetrician members in Ireland threatening to leave them without assistance in dealing with personal injury claims against them. The MDU has a moral and ethical obligation to provide assistance to these members. I also believe these decisions may be in breach of the MDU’s memorandum and articles of association. Against that background, the first source of indemnity should be the body which accepted payment to cover these claims. That body should be subjected to the maximum pressure, including legal pressure, to ensure that it lives up to its obligations. In the event that it continues to refuse assistance in these cases, the plaintiffs and doctors involved cannot be left in an uncertain position while the MDU is pursued to honour its obligations.