It is common knowledge that the Health Service Executive (HSE) has many flaws, whether it is the excessive waiting lists, the overcrowded emergency rooms or the care for loved ones that many would feel is substandard.
Irrespective of these equally deplorable issues, a darker underbelly exists in the HSE. This darker underbelly is medical negligence; where medical professionals act negligently in their care of a patient leading to the injury or death of their patient.
Most recently we became aware of this issue following the death of Savita Halappanavar. Some of you may also be aware of Dr Michael Neary, who carried out 129 peripartum hysterectomies at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda between 1974 and 1998. You would think these are isolated cases, but in reality the statistics reflect a rising number of “accidents” and general medical blunders.
International studies have shown that medical accidents are the leading cause of death in modern western society. The Department of Health considered and accepted these findings and finally asked how many people are actually affected by medical accidents caused by our professionals. Figures show that between four and 11 per cent of all hospital admissions will suffer from some form of negligence. With four million hospital admissions each year in Ireland, that works out at potentially 160,000 patients injured or killed at least every year.
The HSE responded to this problem by establishing the State Claims Agency, where medical professionals can admit to making a blunder anonymously. In 2008, up to 84,000 medical accidents were reported, with the same level reported in 2009 and closer to 90,000 reported in 2010. Then the publishing of statistics just stopped.
Many of the injuries and deaths that are caused in Irish hospitals are highly preventable, such as the cases of Savita, Sheila Hodgers, Isabelle Sheehan, Cian Brady, Leo Conroy, etc. These people experienced medical negligence that either led to their death or left them quadriplegic or mentally handicapped. According to former Minister for Health, Mary Harney, one in every 10 patients in Irish public hospitals is injured by the HSE while one in every hundred is killed.
From my experiences working in medical negligence litigation, the stories are harrowing, the victims are real and the lives that are ruined are numerous. There are countless cases where hospitals, doctors and the HSE will deny any liability; deny that the doctor was even present; or in one case, deny that the patient had ever been in the hospital.
It’s not uncommon for the HSE to rally countless lawyers and use public “robust resources” to attack anything they believe will reduce their liability. Families left with crippled or mentally handicapped children, like in the case of T (an infant) V The Health Service Executive, must fight for compensation against a state funded organisation that was meant to protect their children, not cripple them.
Do we feel safe in Irish hospitals? Should we stand by when one in every 10 patients is injured and one in every one hundred dies? There needs to be change, accountability, transparency and a health service that we can trust with our lives.
Nathan Wheeler is a final year BCL student in DCU, who has worked with Augustus Cullen Law and Amnesty International.