Fine Gael have proposed a Medical Injuries Board (“MIB”), modelled on the Injuries Board, to reduce the costs associated with long running medical negligence cases and also to reduce the value of the awards involved in such cases. It has been suggested that the introduction of the MIB could lead to a €50 million saving to the Government over three years. The proposed MIB would only assess quantum issues, unlike the Injuries Board. A Plaintiff will still have to establish breach of duty and causation.
The impetus for the proposal appears to be coming from the Government’s plan to cut expenditure in State payments to professional services by €55 million. The Government also appears to have been influenced by the International Monetary Fund’s (“IMF”) recent criticism of Ireland’s failure to address “sheltered professions”, namely law and medicine. The plan is also thought to be favoured by the Government’s Labour coalition partners who recently attacked Fine Gael for seeking to cut wages for low paid workers in regulated areas, rather than going after the sheltered sectors.
Critics of the proposed MIB, who believe that the idea is ill conceived, point to the fact that less than 1% of medical accidents reported to the State Claims Agency culminate in legal proceedings. Furthermore, solicitors are typically reluctant to take on medical negligence actions, which are hugely expensive, without compelling supportive evidence. It is also an abuse of process to issue legal proceedings against a medical practitioner without the benefit of a supportive expert report. In short, sufficient mechanisms are in place to filter spurious clinical negligence claims. Medical negligence claims, which are often highly complex and tend to turn on the specialised evidence of expert witnesses, do not lend themselves to the suggested process.
Critics also note that the proposed scheme could not be self-financing, like the Injuries Board, which levies insurance companies for every claim assessed. MIB could not charge the State, which would be involved in most cases, an assessment fee.
Fine Gael also announced that they would introduce a no-fault compensation scheme for children who suffer catastrophic birth injuries. It is thought that more than 4,000 claims have been lodged against the State and a large proportion of the costs associated with these claims relate to cerebral palsy and other birth-related claims. It remains to be seen how events will unfold.