Medical negligence claims up in private health system

11 July 2014
National medical negligence figures released today show Australia’s private health care system should be subject to greater scrutiny over the standard of care it provides to patients, according to national medical law firm Maurice Blackburn.

The law firm, which receives dozens of inquiries from patients each day, said the report Australia's medical indemnity claims 2012-13 shows the private system (hospitals, day clinics or GPs) should not be complacent about its performance.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report, found a higher number of allegations of negligence or breach of duty of care in the private sector than the public sector.

There were 9327 private sector claims in 2012-13 (3278 new claims). In the same period in the public sector, there were 4339 (947 new claims). There was a total of 13,666 claims open in the private and public sector during 2012-13.

Kathryn Booth, Maurice Blackburn’s national head of medical law said: “There is a common perception that public hospitals are the biggest culprits when it comes to poor care, however this report shows the private system has shortcomings with patient safety.

“We also have some issues with data collection. The private sector, because of its very nature, is not obliged to provide detailed information to governments about medical errors in the same way the public system must through the sentinel events reporting processes. This means the private system loses the chance to learn lessons from its mistakes.

“We investigate many claims relating to doctors operating in the private system, including failure to refer patients on for key tests or to see specialists, particularly when patients present with early symptoms of cancer. Ms Booth said today’s report again found the total number of medical negligence cases going to court was low, something of benefit both for patients and healthcare providers.

“With our cases, we attempt to settle the claim via mediation, to avoid a lengthy trial, to make sure the care needs of the client are catered for, particularly given many clients are suffering from serious injuries that have a significant impact on them and their families.”

Strict time limits apply with medical law cases. A claim must start within three years of the alleged incident in most cases and “longer periods may apply to children but is subject to state laws’.

AIHW 2014. Australia's medical indemnity claims 2012-13. Safety and quality of health care 15. Cat. no. HSE 149. Canberra: AIHW.

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