Since the beginning of February 2018, there have been numerous allegations of medical professionals including nurses having done A or B in a negligent manner in the course of discharging their duties!
Clearly, it is beginning to look like the age-old phenomenon of professional negligence is, at present, being led by medical professionals.
I believe this is the time the Ghana Medical and Dental Council, the Ghana Medical Association, the Nurses and Midwives Council took advantage of these unfortunate developments to educate their members to consider professional indemnity insurance as many more such cases remain on the quiet as much as they may be mere allegations. I can imagine the number of medical professionals being prosecuted for their professional negligence in the course of their practice if we were to be in some other parts of the world.
Recently, a physician assistant was alleged to have administered wrong injections to some patients leading to their deaths. Yes, trade solidarity as much as it is allowed saw some of his colleagues agitating for his release.
Another doctor was alleged to have done one of the most inhumane of things by cutting off oxygen supply to a baby leading to its death.
The anger of parents from a specialist hospital that handles mostly paediatric cases in Accra in respect of doctor inadequacy (excessive delays) or the lackadaisical attitude of the few doctors became matters of public concern in the past few weeks.
Last year, a medical doctor was alleged to have diagnosed and rightly prescribed some medications to a 10-year old boy only for a pharmacist to dispense the medications with the wrong dosage! To nail the coffin tighter was the fact that a nurse on duty allegedly failed to draw the attention of a medical doctor when it became clear that the boy was dying after having taken the medicine.
Since then, nothing has been heard of that case again. Pending investigations, there seemed to have been some miscommunication somewhere along the chain of treatment leading to the death of the 10-year old boy! Painful as it was, the boy’s mother had petitioned the appropriate authorities, while a legal suit appears imminent.
Why Medical Practitioners?
This is not the first time medical professionals have had the bashing of sections of the public for various incidents of negligence often resulting in deaths and permanent total disabilities. Theirs seem to be more rampant compared with other professionals because, we see them as ‘next to God’ in determining whether we live or die’! In some of these instances, legal suits were brought against them though I am yet to hear of prosecution of any such medical professionals in Ghana. That notwithstanding, such suits have a rippling effect on the level of confidence members of the public have in the ‘correctness’ of the medical system.
Medical practitioners like all other professionals, undertake to uphold the highest standards of professionalism in pursuant of their professional obligations. Most countries, particularly in the Western world, have medical negligence law, also referred to as medical malpractice law, which provides compensation to patients in the event of any harm arising from sub-standard medical treatment. While a medical professional or health facility may not be directly liable for the harm a patient might suffer while in their care, they are, however, legally responsible for harm or injuries to patients that arise directly from their negligence of deviation from the standard care required of them.
Who is a Professional?
Apart from medical doctors, conventionally, professionals like lawyers, engineers, architects were regarded as the only ‘professionals’. However, the increase in the demand for essential services like the provision of news, over time, has broadened the scope of professionals to encompass persons who offer specialist advice or services in journalism, photography, etc. In line with their duties, professionals are often exposed to various perils, which may not only undermine their competences, but also cause them financial and other losses.
One cannot easily forget the case of Dr. Conrad Murray, a Cardiologist, who was accused of administering an overdose of propofol on the late Pop Star, Michael Jackson, in 2009; and consequently, convicted for manslaughter in 2011. Notwithstanding his release after serving two out of his four-year sentence, Dr. Murray’s reputation has undoubtedly been badly bruised.
It is quite regular to have professionals faulted in the course of their professional conducts. While a lawyer may be badmouthed for his/her poor handling of a suit, a journalist may be cited for libel, and a doctor not spared the accusations of wrong diagnostics and surgeries. This even extends to musicians, who after collecting part-payment, fail to turn up for scheduled shows. Talk less of contractors who have either turned in substandard jobs or failed to deliver on time.
This therefore brings to the fore, the need for Professional Indemnity (PI) insurance or rather making it compulsory for all categories of professionals, to provide the necessary cover against such professional negligence.
Undoubtedly, every organization’s reputation for professionalism engenders public trust. Very often, a professional’s reputation is only as good as his or her last job delivered. Whilst true professionals always strive to deliver the best service, the human element, undoubtedly, has its own toll on this. This is, however, not my subtle endorsement of mediocrity, except to say, every professional is bound to make a mistake or two at one point. Thus, even the best surgeon may perform a bad surgery, if s/he was in a rather bad mood prior to the performance of the surgery.
Professional Indemnity (PI) Insurance
Pl insurance provides cover for individual professionals and organisations against a claim, usually a civil suit, arising from professional negligence. The policy typically covers alleged failure of performance, financial loss, and service / product error or omission by a policyholder. The cover sometimes extends to the cost of defence and groundless lawsuit. In some jurisdictions, PI is by law required of, especially, medical and legal professionals.
The Way Forward
Lately, most Ghanaians have awakened to their rights to legal redress against negligent professionals including journalists, media houses, medical doctors, among others. Libel suits against some ‘errant’ journalists and media houses have recorded an upsurge, often resulting in huge fines. In this regard, many insurers in some other parts of the world appear uncomfortable underwriting PI policies, since the risks involved are usually very high. That notwithstanding, it is imperative for insurers to consider the track records of individual professionals and organizations and offer them PI cover at affordable premiums.
There is also the need for the all stakeholder health institutions and professional bodies to urgently consider making it mandatory for all qualified medical professionals to have in place Professional Indemnity Insurance before they are permitted to practise.
While at this, can our Legislature begin the process of making Professional Indemnity Insurance compulsory, especially for our medical practitioners?