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John Drennan: Consultants' indemnity deal costs €250m

A clinical indemnity deal for top consultants agreed by the new Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin will cost the taxpayer over €250m.

The insurance deal provided that the State would assume liability for any negligence claims, costs and liabilities of obstetricians in Ireland.

The deal covered obstetricians in public hospitals and also those who work in exclusive clinics like Mount Carmel in Co Dublin and the Bon Secours in Co Cork.

At the time the arrangement was put in place, Mr Martin said the initiative would deliver "clear benefits for patients, doctors, hospitals and the Exchequer" and secure "best value for the taxpayer".

It was also envisaged at the time that the costs would be shared by the taxpayer and the consultant obstetricians.

However, the Department of Health has admitted that the full cost to the State of the scheme was €73.5m to date. And so far, outside of a minor payment of €1.46m from 'third parties', the entire tab has been picked up by the State.

The department also revealed that the State did not keep track of the different costs being incurred on behalf of consultants in public and private practice and admitted the contingent liability over the next three years cumulatively was estimated to be €170m.

Obstetrician consultants are some of the highest-paid medical professionals in Ireland and typically charge up to €5,000 per delivery.

However, they are not the only high earners who have benefited from the scheme as barristers are also making a fortune.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Fine Gael health spokesman James Reilly claimed that in insurance cases "legal fees typically constitute a third of the cost" and called the indemnity "another barrister-fattening exercise''.

He added that "it is neither moral or right to ask people to mortgage their homes to secure justice for their children in negligence cases whilst highly paid professionals are insured by the State''.

Sunday Independent