Wednesday, 4 May 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
153. Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of organisations which provide indemnity cover for medical consultants in private obstetrics practice here; her views on whether the high membership subscriptions being charged are attributable to the absence of competitive choice for consultants; the steps she is taking to address this matter in respect of private practice; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13980/05]
Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney): As far as my Department is aware only one organisation, the Medical Protection Society, is at present offering professional indemnity cover to consultant obstetricians in full or part-time private practice. The only other provider of this type of cover, the Medical Defence Union, has not offered it to obstetricians since 2003. It is obviously not ideal that doctors should have to rely on a sole provider of such a vital service. However, the supports which the Government has put in place to keep the cost of this cover at an affordable level are available to both mutual defence organisations and any commercial insurers interested in entering this market. It is regrettable that no other organisation has, to date, chosen to avail of them. There is no evidence to suggest that the absence of competition in this highly specialised market is leading to the charging of excessive subscription rates. A condition of availing of the supports put in place by the Government is that the subscriptions charged are reasonable and are agreed with my Department.
154. Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if, in relation to the special arrangements that were concluded by her Department in 2001 and 2002 for the continuation of obstetric services, the State has assessed the contingent liability involved arising from the assurances and guarantees provided by the State to consultants or the indemnity organisation involved; if the State has made any payments in respect of such guarantees; if the State has been notified of any claims likely to involve payments under the guarantees; if the agreements are still in force; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13981/05]
Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney): The agreements entered into in 2001 and 2002 with the Medical Protection Society were necessary at the time to avert a serious threat to the continuity of obstetric services in public and private hospitals. The period covered by these arrangements is from 1 March 2001 to 1 February 2004. As very few claims have yet emerged from this period it is difficult to come up with an accurate estimate of the value of the claims which will ultimately have to be paid. It must be borne in mind that the consultants covered by the arrangements will be co-defendants with other doctors and hospitals in these claims. The apportionment of liability, and the consequent share of the costs to be borne by the consultants, will vary from case to case. In addition, the State will benefit from the transfer of the funds established under the agreements.
Using some simplifying assumptions about the number of likely successful claims, likely average cost of settlements and share of liability the total cost to the State of settling these claims could range from €70 million to €90 million at present day values. This cost will be offset by the value of the funds to be transferred to the State. The State has made no payments to date on foot of these arrangements. My Department has been notified of a total of 21 claims which may fall to be covered by the agreements. It is difficult to say at this stage how many of these will involve the making of any payment. The funds to be transferred to the State under the agreements will be the first source used to finance the cost of settling these claims. The agreements effectively terminated on 1 February 2004 when claims against consultants were included in the clinical indemnity scheme. Discussions are continuing with the Medical Protection Society on the arrangements for the formal transfer of the balance of the funds to the State.
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