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€46m-plus SCA legal bill in first half of 2016

16 Sep 2016

L-r: Ciaran Breen, Director, State Claims Agency; Prof Albert Wu, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Conor O’Kelly, CEO, NTMA; Prof Ajay Singh, Harvard Medical School; and Dr Dubhfeasa Slattery, Consultant Respiratory and General Paediatrician, Head of Clinical Risk, SCA

The State Claims Agency (SCA), which operates the Clinical Indemnity Scheme, paid more than €46 million in 1,696 payments to 24 firms of solicitors and 167 barristers for handling legal work associated with clinical negligence claims in the first half of this year alone, IMT has established.

The total bill of €46,875,808 to solicitors and barristers both on and off panel compares to a sum of €10,280,983 made in 1,301 payments to 27 firms of solicitors and 164 barristers in the second half of last year, previously reported by this publication (see IMT 01/04/2016).

This emerged as the Minister for Health this week said the Government “has committed to tackling the rise in cost in clinical claims”.

Speaking at the SCA’s inaugural Quality, Clinical Risk and Safety Conference, Minister Harris said: “We are about to establish a new expert group to be led by the Department of Justice and Equality. This group will be tasked to report within six months on options for reforming the Law of Torts and the current claims process, particularly when it comes to brain and catastrophic injuries, and those from vaccination.”

This would be in addition to a suite of tort reform measures already on the way in relation to legislating for period payment orders and open disclosure, which the Minister described as priority legislations that he hoped would be drafted by the autumn.

“The report obviously will be important if we want to ensure that patients who have been damaged are adequately compensated and also ensure that the funding expended on our legal costs is effectively spent. We want to help the patient, not the legal system. This approach will minimise any displacement of funding that could be spent on providing health services.”

In the second twice-yearly published figures, seen by IMT, the highest-paid solicitors were once again Dublin firm Hayes Solicitors, which received €1,661,071 in 118 payments (up from €1,570,464 in 93 payments in the second half of 2015), while the highest-paid barrister was Emily Egan Senior Counsel (SC) who received €540,917 in 16 payments (compared to Patrick Hanratty SC who received €360,698 for nine payments in the previous six months).

The SCA drew attention to the fact that it amended its reporting methodology at the end of Quarter 1 2016 to now recognise transactions on payment date as opposed to transaction date in relation to 2014/15 figures only.

In 2012, the Agency announced a new procurement structure requiring barristers and solicitors to engage in a competitive tendering process for inclusion in panels under which their fees were capped at up to 25 per cent below existing levels. This was the first time a State agency had procured barristers and solicitors for personal injury litigation in this way.

Lloyd Mudiwa

Click here to view the full article which appeared in Irish Medical Times