Doctors face prison or fine if they attempt to conceal medical errors
Health service staff who fail to tell the truth about medical errors face being fined or imprisoned under a new law, it emerged yesterday.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan revealed the proposed penalties as he outlined the Patient Safety Bill, which will make open disclosure of information about mistakes mandatory instead of voluntary.
The bill, he said, would make a duty of candour about serious reportable events compulsory.
The proposed law has taken on a new urgency in the wake of the CervicalCheck scandal.
Internal audits showing that women who developed cervical cancer had been given the wrong test result previously were not passed on in a majority of cases.
Dr Holohan told the Oireachtas Health Committee that a registered health services provider found guilty of an offence of non-disclosure would be subject to penalties in the form of a fine or imprisonment.
"It is similar to the approach of the UK, where the duty of candour regulation seeks to hold providers and directors to account," he said.
"Our provisions go further than duty of candour and we go beyond the duty on organisations.
"We also put these requirements on practitioners and there are penalties, so we go further than they do in the UK."
Dr Holohan said that Dr Gabriel Scally's recent report on the CervicalCheck controversy would be taken into account in the legislation.
There will be particular emphasis on what Dr Scally highlighted about the "primacy of the right of patients to have full knowledge about their health care, as and when they wish".
While the current approach to disclosure within the health service "has had positive impacts within and across services, the Scally report had identified significant issues which now needed to be remedied", Dr Holohan said.
The Patient Safety Bill was already in development prior to the Scally report.
But it will now be one of the primary means for responding to the report's findings and will provide the legislative underpinning for mandatory open disclosure.
The bill provided for mandatory notification of serious patient safety incidents to the appropriate authority Dr Holohan said.
Serious patient safety incidents include the death of a person, "a permanent lessening of bodily, sensory, motor, physical or intellectual functions" and harm that is not severe but results in, for example, an increase in treatment or a requirement for treatment to prevent death or injury.