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Harris on the defensive after judge criticises doctor recruitment process

“I note that the interview panel described the respondent as ‘eager to work and learn’. But learn at whose expense?” the judge said.

Updated Thu 8:17 PM

Simon Harris Minister Harris, speaking on RTE's Six One this evening.

MINISTER FOR HEALTH Simon Harris has defended the recruitment of doctors in Ireland, saying that the number of complaints and members struck off the medical register is relatively small.

It comes after Mr Justice Kelly delivered a judgement in the High Court yesterday in relation to a junior doctor who was found to be unable to perform basic tasks in a maternity unit.

The judge gave his conclusions on the case in open court in order to prompt a review of the recruitment process. He said:

“Unfortunately, I have encountered other cases where registered medical practitioners with little knowledge of the basics of medicine are nonetheless recruited to work in the hospitals of this State.

The use of such defective interview and recruitment procedures has given rise to the employment of persons who are wholly unsuitable for appointment and an obvious danger to patients in those hospitals.

In his judgement, he continued:

“In the present case I note that the interview panel described the respondent as “eager to work and learn”. But learn at whose expense?

Surely it should not be at the expense of unwitting patients who are entitled to expect that when they enter hospital they will be dealt with by registered medical practitioners who are not… “lacking in the basic competencies required of a doctor in the hospital”.

Responding on RTÉ’s Six One News tonight, Simon Harris said that he had asked the HSE to expedite a review process that was already underway in relation to recruitment.

Defending the appointment process, he said that there are 22,000 doctors registered in Ireland, and in 2017 there were 350 complaints with just 3 doctors struck off the register.

He said that it was important to “keep this in context” and said that the reporting mechanism worked in this case, as the doctor’s colleagues “took action within days”.

When asked about the Medical Council’s concerns about those 350 complaints, and why the HSE is reviewing its recruitment process, Harris said:

HSE is rightly keeping its recruitment processes under review, the Medical Council said that this was something that needed to happen… I think the recruitment process could be streamlined and less bureaucratic.

The report into the recruitment process is due by the end of the year, Harris added, so they can implement recommendations by 2019.

Harris said that he’s written to the HSE to ask that they would specifically consider the comments of Mr Justice Kelly in that review.

Medical negligence cases

Ciarán Breen

Earlier today, the Public Accounts Committee heard that 113 medical negligence claims against the State are expected to cost €1.4 billion.

Chairman Seán Fleming told the Public Accounts Committee that based on estimations by the State Claims Agency, 113 cases out of over 3,000 medical negligence cases, that it has estimations for, will be settled for in excess of €10 million each.

Fianna Fáil’s Seán Fleming read out the rough estimations for what the State Claims Agency expects the outstanding medical negligence cases “on its books” to settle for (some of these cases haven’t been before the court):

  • Under €1 million (2,954 cases)
  • Between €1-4 million (207 cases)
  • Between €4-10 million (91 cases)
  • In excess of €10 million (113 cases)

Fleming said that the issue of medical negligence was “a major bill” for the health service, and that many of the 113 cases are “catastrophic” and involve lifelong issues.

Of those 113 cases, 29 cases are in the Saolta West Hospital group, a further 22 are from the South South-West Hospital Group, Fleming said.

The total for those cases is worth €1.4 billion; that’s out of the estimated total cost for medical negligence cases of €2.4 billion. Fleming said that the figures were “staggering”.

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