Chief Minister Katy Gallagher at Cavalry Hospital. Photo: Andrew Sheargold
Canberra hospitals have a good record of ensuring patient safety despite some high payouts for negligence last year, the ACT Chief Minister says.
The Canberra Times reported on the weekend that compensation payments for alleged medical malpractice at the Canberra Hospital rose from $1.6 million in 2010-11 to $10.6 million in 2012-13 - an almost sevenfold increase over two years.
At Calvary Public Hospital two large payments, totalling more than $15 million, were made in the past nine months to two disabled people.
However, Katy Gallagher said the annual amounts were volatile and she did not believe negligence incidents were worsening.
''Some of the cases being finalised now may go back 10 or 20 years. The payouts fluctuate year by year, depending on the number and the nature of cases that get finalised.''
In her view, she said, there was not a problem with the quality of medical treatment in Canberra.
''But it's a human system and so there will be some cases where there are findings against doctors.''
The federal government's MyHospitals website measures two aspects of patient safety: rates of blood infections, which can be a sign of poor care, and staff hand-washing practices, which bear on the spread of diseases.
Compared with similar hospitals, Canberra Hospital has average infection rates but much better hand hygiene, while Calvary Hospital has better infection rates and average hand-washing practices.
Ms Gallagher acknowledged that the two hospitals had relatively long waiting times for emergency care and elective surgery.
But she said the quality of their care, such as keeping infection rates low, was more important.
''The issue of timeliness is an area where the ACT doesn't look crash hot, but even then, when compared with similar hospitals, we're average,'' she said.
The Chief Minister was unable legally to comment on individual patients' cases, but said the two hospitals had robust procedures in place to minimise the risk of hospital-acquired infections.
''Despite this, however, the risk of infection can probably never be completely eliminated and the prevalence of anti-microbial resistance is known to be a growing worldwide phenomenon.''
She also disputed the effectiveness of a ''name and shame'' register of doctors with a history of malpractice, saying there was ''no evidence that this provides any improved protection for the public''.
However, she agreed the medical profession could improve the transparency of its decisions to regulate doctors' activities.
''We've been waiting for the current review of the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency to finish, which will help inform whether there are further steps we can take, particularly around giving the community more information about specific doctors.
''I've told the Medical Board myself that that is an issue that should be addressed, though I'm not sure what the perfect answer is.''