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Government's patient safety legislation blasted by doctors and patients

Dr Rhona Mahony, former master of the National Maternity Hospital said the system pits doctors against patients.

Image: Shutterstock/S_L

THE GOVERNMENT’S DRAFT patient safety law has been blasted by doctors, patients and legal experts, who say it won’t improve the handling of medical negligence claims.

Ireland’s claims system was described as “adversarial” and “litigious” by various participants at a conference organised by the Irish Medical Organisation on Saturday.

The patient safety bill, published last year and currently making its way through the Dáil, includes fines and imprisonment of up to six months for healthcare practitioners or providers found guilty of medical negligence.

But victims of medical negligence want apologies and information, not expensive court cases, said patients’ advocate Lorraine Reilly.

Ms Reilly lost two baby girls, Asha (in 2008) and Amber (in 2010), while in the care of Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe. Medical professionals “deliberately withheld information” from her, she said, causing added grief and leading her to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder.

She and her husband found out through the media that there had been negligence involved, but not until years later. They discovered the full story only after several freedom of information requests, independent reviews, inquests and a court case.

“If they had just explained to us exactly what happened, apologised and just shown empathy, just made sure that it came across that they really were sorry – that’s all we wanted,” she said. “We did not want money for our babies that had passed away. What was that going to do for us? It wasn’t going to bring them back.”

Dr Rhona Mahony, former Master of the National Maternity Hospital, said the current legal system “pits doctors against patients” and requires a “radical rethink”.

Her voice broke as she recalled the case of expectant mother Malak Thawley (34), who died while surgeons were trying to remove an ectopic pregnancy.

“I will never forget telling Mr Thawley that his wife was dead,” Dr Mahony said, criticising the ensuing legal process and media coverage of the case.

“I watched my staff read this day after day, and I saw their pain and the inability we had to actually deal with our patient, Mr Thawley,” she said. “We could never bring Ms Thawley back, but we could at least have handled it appropriately.”

Three-quarters of medical negligence claims relate to maternity services, and are largely paid out to those born with cerebral palsy.

A tribunal was set up in July to deal with claims arising from the CervicalCheck controversy.

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Sarah Collins

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