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The menace of medical negligence in Nigeria

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By Abraham Adekunle

Public concerns grow regarding health professional’s conduct.

There has been growing public concerns regarding the ethical behaviors of healthcare professionals, especially doctors and nurses. Patients and their relatives complain of poor conduct. There has also been a rise in litigation against healthcare professionals. Every profession or calling has an ethical code, which are more often than not universally observed, and the medical profession is not an exception. These professional ethics cover the personal and corporate standards of behavior expected of professionals – what a professional should and should not do.

However, many health professionals do not adhere to the standards completely. Medical negligence or malpractice is a growing menace in Nigeria. Many avoidable deaths have been caused by doctors and nurses who do not pay attention to detail. A 2017 survey on medical errors in Nigeria, which was published by Archives of Medicine and Health Sciences, showed a prevalence of negligence at 42.8 percent per 145 medical practitioners. This means that about 60 out of 145 health professionals are indicated in this.

The report highlighted three common medical errors.

It was revealed in the report that the three most common medical errors that are committed by medical practitioners are: error of medication prescription, which was pegged at 95.2 percent; error of radio-laboratory investigation, which was put at 83.9 percent; and error of physician diagnoses, which was put at 69.4 percent. Some other studies, which were frequently cited in the report, placed the number of deaths resulting from medical negligence at 250,000 every year. This figure makes medical errors the third leading cause of death in Nigeria, behind cancer and cardiovascular disease.

To put all these in perspective, weeks ago, a Lagos High court sitting at Tafawa Balewa Square sentenced a medical doctor, Dr. Ejike Ferdinand Orji, to one year imprisonment for causing grievous harm through negligence and for endangering the life of a 16-year-old patient. The medical director of Excel Medical Centre Dolphin Estate was found guilty of four out of the six-count charges brought against him by the Lagos State Government. Justice Adedayo Akintoye held in her judgement that Dr. Orji’s action fell below what is reasonably expected of a medical doctor and added that the prosecution established the essential ingredients of the offence of breach of duty, care and endangering the life of a 16-year-old patient amongst others.

Rampant cases like this have made relatives take the law into their hands.

In January 2023, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) said in a statement that one of its members, Dr. Uyi Iluobe, was murdered by relatives of his patients at a hospital in Oghara in Delta State. According to NMA’s president, Uche Ojinma, Dr. Iluobe’s death was a response of the relatives to the loss of a patient, from suspected gunshot injuries which can never be justified and has resulted in violence against doctors and other healthcare workers from injuries to murder.

Ojinmah said that “It is unbelievable that in the face of a debilitating medical brain drain, the few doctors that patriotically decided to stay back and take care of our fellow citizens are being murdered by many Nigerians.” He also maintained that attacks on doctors by families of patients who die are becoming prevalent in Nigeria. This is not the only case like this. Late in December 2022 in Kwara State, following the death of a butcher, Alhaji Saliu, at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital (UITH), his relatives went berserk by attacking a medical doctor on duty.

Medical practitioners need to solve the negligence narrative.

The menace of medical negligence and medical malpractice has not only contributed to a lot of deaths but also emboldened the relatives of patients who die, whether by negligence or not, to attack doctors and other health professionals on duty. The NMA as a body needs to find solutions to both the negligence of medical practitioners and the narratives being pushed around by people about health professionals who are diligent at their work. This is vital in sustaining the medical sector if the country is to survive with the surging rate of brain drain that the country is experiencing.

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