Health Minister under pressure to audit 'rogue' doctors amid risks to patients

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith and Evelyn Ring

Health Minister Simon Harris is coming under mounting pressure to audit the number of rogue doctors in the health system amid fears that patients are being needlessly put at risk by unqualified medics.

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Stephen Donnelly wrote to Mr Harris yesterday demanding a review after a judge warned people with “little knowledge of the basics of medicine” are being allowed to work in hospitals.

In the High Court earlier this week, Mr Justice Peter Kelly suspended a junior doctor from Eastern Europe who had been working in a hospital maternity unit here until other doctors raised concerns that he lacked basic medical competency.

The judge expressed serious concerns that “defective” recruitment and interview procedures has led to the employment of persons “wholly unsuitable for appointment and an obvious danger to patients”.

Mr Donnelly sought an audit of all doctors who have come into the country to establish where they qualified; how long they have been qualified, and whether they are suitably qualified to work in the areas of medicine where they are currently posted. When that audit is completed, he wants an investigation into how many rogue doctors there are around the system.

While Mr Harris has written to HSE director general John Connaghan to seek an “emergency response” to Mr Justice Kelly’s findings, he said there was already a review process under way in relation to recruitment processes that he wanted the HSE to “expedite”.

He also called for “a degree of proportionality” on the issue, saying more than 22,000 doctors are registered with the Medical Council yet, in 2017, 350 complaints were received by the council and three doctors were struck off.

When asked on RTÉ News whether he could give an assurance that there were no rogue doctors working in the system now, he replied: “I am satisfied that the Medical Council is the regulator, it’s a very robust regulator and it takes very swift action. If you are asking me should we improve our recruitment process for doctors in this country, the answer is ‘absolutely yes’.”

The call for an investigation came as the State Claims Agency (SCA) revealed Ireland is facing more than 3,000 medical negligence cases due to serious errors in public hospitals — including 113 claims predicted to cost more than €10m each.

At the Public Accounts Committee, SCA director Ciaran Breen said it is facing more than 3,300 health-related cases. He said 113 were predicted to eventually cost €10m each; 91 will cost €4m-€10m; 207 will cost €1m-€4m and 2,954 will cost less than €1m — a total cost of €1.4bn.

He said the cases are spread around all hospital groups, including:

  • The South/South West group in Munster: 614 cases, including 22 expected to cost more than €10m;
  • The Saolta West/north West group: 557 cases, 29 expected to cost over €10m;
  • The University of Limerick mid-west group: 238 cases, 14 expected to cost over €10m;
  • The Dublin Midlands group: 508 cases, 17 expected to cost over €10m;
  • The RCSI Dublin North East group: 571 cases, 10 expected to cost over €10m;
  • The Ireland East group: 581 cases, 10 expected to cost more than €10m;
  • The children’s hospital group: 56 cases, five expected to cost over €10m.

Mr Breen refused to identify the hospitals or doctors involved in cases but flagged “clusters” of cases and admitted “there have been occasions where we’ve had to take an issue up with a particular practitioner” due to concerns over their abilities.At the same PAC meeting, He

He also conceded that the cervical cancer tests compensation cost will exceed the €32m price of delivering the service but refused to reveal an exact figure for “commercially sensitive” reasons and amid claims victims will use it to increase their demands.

Health officials also confirmed some women are being forced to wait at least 20 weeks to receive follow-up smear tests to clarify their health — despiterepeated Government promises that no delay would occur.

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