Could tax reforms spur more medical negligence claims?

Date: May 04, 2015

Public hospitals could find themselves facing a growing number of medical negligence claims if new tax reforms are introduced, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has suggested.

The group revealed that government representatives are considering changes to tax concessions, which could make it more difficult for facilities to recruit and retain staff. AMA Vice-President Stephen Parnis believes that the best doctors may be more likely to go in search of employment at private hospitals.

"Traditionally, public hospitals have been a less attractive area of practice for doctors because private sector work generally attracts greater remuneration when compared to the salaries and conditions available to most doctors who work primarily in public hospitals," Mr Parnis noted.

Regional public hospitals could be most at risk, as the AMA warns that concessions are essential for the recruitment not only of permanent medical staff, but also locums.

Dr Parnis is among those calling for a public consultation on the issue. This will allow medical practitioners to have their say on how any changes to legislation would impact them, as well as the quality of care that is available to patients in public hospitals.

Medical negligence in the public sector

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reveals how many medical negligence claims the public sector has faced over recent years. A report titled Australia's medical indemnity claims 2012-13 shows that the number of new cases has remained steady over recent years.

"There were about 950 new public sector claims in 2012-13," revealed AIHW spokesperson Jenny Hargreaves.

"This was fewer than in any of the previous four years, where the number of new claims ranged from 1,200 to 1,400."

Between 2008-09 and 2012-13, the AIHW acknowledged a rise in the number of less costly claims. There was a notable increase in claimants putting forward cases where they had suffered mild rather than severe harm. The amount of public sector claims closed with a settlement under $10,000 was fairly steady at around 63 per cent.

Meanwhile, the amount of new combined public and private sector claims against general practitioners stood at 23 per cent in 2012-13, down from between 28 and 32 per cent four years previously.

This illustrates that members of the public expect a high level of care no matter what type of facility they visit, which is why the public and private sectors alike need to maintain the best possible standards.

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