THE number of compensation claims against Irish GPs has more than doubled in just six years, with a big rise in patients demanding payouts of more than €1m.
GPs say the rise in litigation is just one of the pressures helping to fuel high stress levels among family doctors, who are now battling government plans to introduce free care for all under-sixes against a background of shrinking resources and growing patient demands.
The doctors say they have suffered a 38pc cut in medical card fees in recent years.
Dr Rob Hendry, medical director of the Medical Protection Society, which indemnifies around 2,600 GPs, told the Irish Independent that the number of claims has more than doubled between 2007 and 2012. He said he could not disclose figures for the number of claims or individual compensation payouts for commercial company reasons.
However, he revealed: "We have seen an increase in the number of claims above €1m brought against GPs in Ireland. We now have 3.5 times as many claims above €1m on our books as we had 10 years ago."
He is among the speakers at a special "doctors in the dock" workshop to be held by the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP), the professional body for family doctors, at its annual meeting next weekend.
ICGP spokesman Dr Darach O Ciardha said: "It is an inescapable fact that the drastic cut in resourcing of GPs over the last number of years has increased the pressure on surgeries.
"This is leading to reduced staffing, GP burnout and reduced capacity to invest in new equipment. This is coupled with the increasingly litigious nature of society."
Dr Diarmuid Quinlan, who won an award with his colleague Dr Paul Ryan for reducing medication errors, said doctors needed to have robust systems in place to protect patient safety.
"Between 5-10pc of patients entering hospital suffer preventable harm. We don't have figures for GPs but it is likely to be similar. If we can cut that to 3pc then that is a huge improvement for patients."
A survey by the Medical Protection Society last year found that around 15pc of GPs had experienced a claim for negligence or a complaint investigation by the Medical Council, their regulatory body, in the past 12 months.