Patients lobby demands legal duty to report medical errors

By Cormac O’Keeffe

DOCTORS and hospitals should be legally obliged to tell the truth to patients and their families when a medical accident occurs, according to the new lobby group.

The advocacy group Medical Injuries Alliance, (MIA) said Department of Health estimates indicate that up to 160,000 people may be injured very year as a result of medical accidents.

MIA also said HSE and hospital data suggests that thousands of people die prematurely because they are not examined in emergency departments on time.

Solicitor and MIA chairman Michael Boylan said patients and families faced a “David and Goliath” battle against hospitals and doctors.

"Medical accidents can have an absolutely devastating impact on the lives of ordinary people, with lifelong consequences and huge trauma.

"But the problem of evasiveness, lack of honesty and candour by healthcare professionals adds enormously to the distress of families, length of time it takes for cases to be resolved and increases in expense".

Mr. Boylan said that after working more than 25 years in the area, his experience was that the default position in the medical profession was one of "circling the wagons", even in cases of obvious error.

"I find routinely they will deny, be evasive and sometimes be downright untruthful".

He said this was at odds with ethical guidelines issued by the Medical Council.

"Paraphrasing, this states there is an ethical duty on doctors to be candid and honest with their patient when a medical accident occurs", he said. "Unfortunately, there is no legal duty. There are no consequences for non-compliance".

This is the top aim of MIA – which draws members from legal professions, patients, their families, and others – for a legal duty of candour on all medical professionals and administrators to reveal as early as possible when an accident occurs.

The group also wants:

Mr. Boylan said St. James’s Hospital in Dublin examined the outcomes of people who were not seen within the recommended guideline of six hours in emergency department – one third of all patients – and found 100 died prematurely.

"Bear in mind St. James’s is the best-performing A&E, so thousands of people are dying prematurely every year", said Mr. Boylan. "I can't understand why there isn’t a public outcry at this".

Bruce Antoniotti SC, MIA vice-chairman, said if duty of candour was introduced “into the psyche of medical professionals there would be less legal cases and less trauma to patients”.

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