Fine Gael Cork Senator, Colm Burke, has warned that high insurance costs could lead to private hospital consultants leaving Ireland. Senator Burke raised the issue during an adjournment debate in the Seanad with the Minister for Health, James Reilly TD, this week.
“Private hospital consultants must take out their own insurance policies to cover the cost of medical negligence claims which may be taken against them. In most cases, the first €1,130,000 in costs is covered by the insurance companies, and then the State Claims Agency steps in to cover the costs in excess of €1,130,000.
“In recent years, the numbers of claims has increased and so too has the cost of insurance policies for consultants. For example, an orthopaedic surgeon can expect to pay up to €100,000 for his or her insurance premium every year. Consultants and their representatives tell me that insurance costs are reaching unsustainable levels, and could lead to consultants quitting Ireland and going abroad where salaries are high and costs are lower.
“We cannot ignore this problem when you consider that 41% of all elective surgery is carried out by private consultants not working for the HSE.
“The medical profession wants the cap to be lowered, so that insurance companies would pick up the bill for the first €500,000, and the State Claims Agency would cover the rest. While I am not necessarily advocating this approach, I do believe we need to fully engage with the private medical sector on this issue. We also need to look at the wider issue of restructuring how we deal with medical negligence claims.
“We cannot deny that we are competing with other countries for medical professionals. The possibility of a flight of consultants cannot be ignored. Minister Reilly has said that the State Claims Agency is currently analysing the impact of any changes, and the Agency is in discussions with officials from the Department of Health on the matter. Officials from the Department have also met representatives of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association and the Medical Protection Society about the issue, which I hope will lead to progress.”