Why cases of medical negligence persist in Nigerian hospitals – NMA

Medical Doctors (health workers) attending to patients used to illustrate the story health
Doctors attending to patients used to illustrate the story

The President of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Francis Faduyile, says a “total systemic failure” is responsible for cases of medical negligence in Nigerian hospitals.

“It’s the total systemic failure that we have been decrying. We don’t have enough personnel; we don’t have enough equipment and the government does not have enough health facilities,” Mr Faduyile said.

He was taking questions from journalists during a Monday press briefing held at the Abuja Head office of the NMA to announce the organisation’s 2nd National Health Summit and the 25th Triennial Conference of the Commonwealth Medical Association (CMA).

The summit is being held between November 4 and 8 in Abuja.

Some journalists had questioned why doctors among other members of the health workforce are facing accusations of gross medical negligence.

Their concerns resonate with the theme of the event, “Patients Centred Care.”

NMA President Responds

Responding, the NMA president said many cases of negligence were borne out of the health professionals’ working conditions and welfare.

“Nigerian doctors are still some of the best in the world, but when you have a peculiar situation within the country that makes you not to be able to effectively discharge your duties, you might get frustrated,” he said.

Mr Faduyile said some doctors see up to 120 patients daily.

“By the time you are getting to half of the number, you will be very frustrated. We are all human beings and that is why in the physician’s oath, it was said that doctors shall take care of their own health too.

“Sometimes you see doctors that have not slept for days because he/she was taking calls throughout the whole weekend and if you expect him to answer you properly at that time, it might be difficult.

“I work in LASUTH and sometimes consultants may work the whole weekend without going home and if you have five to six patients to be treated at a particular time and he cannot cut himself into five places.

“While you are waiting for him to come to your theatre to see your patient, he might not be able to and all you are seeing at that point is that he is not responsive.

“Sometimes you have a patient that you know you can take care of but you can’t even check his BP (blood pressure) because the equipment is not there,” the doctor said.

He, however, agreed that there are clear cut cases of medical negligence.

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“I am not saying we don’t have some of our doctors who are not doing well and that is why we have the medical and dental council. If you have a genuine claim, you can report and the person will be duly punished.”

The official said the theme of this year’s NMA National Health Summit was chosen to focus on issues surrounding medical negligence and patient care.

Medical Negligence

Officially, Nigeria gravely lacks sufficient professional hands to render health services to its teeming population.

Nigeria’s ratio of doctors to patients is about eight times below the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s recommendation of one doctor to 600 patients.

The available ones are overworked and poorly paid and work in facilities that lack basic equipment that will enable effective service delivery.

PREMIUM TIMES investigation in 2016 showed cases of alleged medical negligence at the Federal Staff Hospital, FSH, Abuja.

In one of the most severe cases, surgeons in the facility were accused of puncturing the lungs of Sandra David, a 29-year-old staff of the Bank of Agriculture during a minor operation, eventually leading to her death.

“We had to ask for a referral, which they reluctantly gave but failed to state the actual condition she was in before leaving the hospital”, the sister of the deceased had recalled. “They just said she had a bile leakage. They did not state that they had punctured her lungs and that she had a blood clot around her lungs…”

Meanwhile, another report by this newspaper in 2018 highlighted how patients lose lives and body parts due to alleged medical negligence at hospitals across the country.

Handling Cases of Medical Negligence

Medical professionals owe their patients a “duty of care”. When this duty is breached and the patient suffers some damage then it gives rise to a potential claim for compensation.

Apart from high courts, the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, MDCN, also handles cases of medical negligence.

It is the regulatory body of all medical and alternative medicine practitioners in the country, with a mandate to discipline any erring practitioners whose actions or in-actions fall short of the medical professional ethics.

The MDCN Tribunal has equal jurisdictions with the regular high court, hence its ruling can only be challenged at the Court of Appeal.

The tribunal in July convicted two doctors for negligence.

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