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Call to speed up clinical negligence case times

A doctors’ group has called for new rules to speed up clinical negligence cases after it said some doctors are facing significant mental health issues due to the length of time it takes to resolve claims.

The Medical Protection Society, which gives legal representation and advice to 16,000 doctors in Ireland, said the changes are needed after releasing a new survey based on the experiences of 200 of its members.

According to the group, 91% of doctors who responded said they were worried about their mental well-being during a clinical negligence case.

The figure includes doctors who said they needed professional help, experienced suicidal thoughts or quit practising medicine entirely as a result of a claim being made against them.

The survey also said 88% of doctors who took part were worried about the length of time clinical negligence claims take to resolve.

According to the Medical Protection Society, it takes an average of 1,462 days to resolve a clinical negligence claim in Ireland.

This compares to 1,279 days in South Africa, 940 days in Hong Kong and 939 days in the UK.

Medical Director of the Medical Protection Society Dr Rob Hendry said: “Being involved in a clinical negligence claim can be brutal for both patients and doctors in any country. In Ireland, however, this is made much worse by a painfully slow process.

“A patient who experiences harm due to clinical negligence in Ireland will wait an unnecessarily long time to receive compensation, and both parties involved in the claim will be dragged through a process that is longer than it needs to be.”

Dr Hendry said: “Having a claim hanging over your head for an inordinate length of time impacts on mental well-being. Many doctors who have experienced a claim tell us it resulted in anxiety and depression. Some quit medicine, which is the last thing we need.”

In recent years, patient advocate groups have consistently raised concerns over the lengthy period of time it can take for clinical negligence cases to be resolved.

In a bid to partially address the issue, the Patient Safety Bill was signed into law last year, which requires physicians to fully inform patients of serious patient safety incidents as soon as they occur in order to reduce the risk of costly negligence cases taking place.

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