The State Claims Agency has said that it had 2,840 active clinical claims last year, with an estimated outstanding liability of €1.1 billion.

SCA Director Ciarán Breen said that maternity services related claims have accounted for 23% of all new claims and 61% of the estimated liability of all new claims.

This is due to the high values associated with these types of claims.

He told the Joint Committee on Health and Children that the average cost of personal injury clinical claims resolved last year was €140,000, compared with €67,000 in 2009.

One factor was a High Court decision in a 2009 precedent case to increase the level of general damages in catastrophic injuries cases.

Irish Hospital Consultants' Association Secretary General Martin Varley said that over 400 consultants work exclusively in private practice and up to 600 practise privately on a part-time basis.

He said that an estimated 20 consultants ceased private practice in 2014 as the cost of clinical indemnity has become unaffordable.

Mr Varley said that in obstetrics, the indemnity charges were €337,000 a year, in neurosurgery and spinal surgery it was €104,000, and €97,500 for orthopaedics, plastic surgery and laser surgery.

Irish Medical Organisation President Dr Trevor Duffy said that the Government should consider introducing a no-faults claims system for certain cases, similar to what has existed in New Zealand and the Scandinavian countries.

He also said alternative dispute resolution mechanisms were needed.