MANY Nigerians do not know there are laws to punish doctors for negligence. The code of the Medical and Dental Council prescribes punishments for misconduct of its members, though the code is observed mostly in breach.

The punishment the Spanish authorities meted out to a doctor who attended to Mrs. Stella Obasanjo trains attention on medical negligence.

The doctor, a qualified surgeon operated on Mrs. Obasanjo in Marbella, Spain, in October 2005. She died from complications, including excessive bleeding, which the investigators blamed on the doctor.

Sanctions on the doctor, who had a reputation for more than 300 successful  similar surgeries, were a one-year jail term, suspension from practice for three years and a fine of $176,000. Neither his reputation, nor the fact that he was a qualified surgeon saved him.

Issues of responsibility for medical negligence are unclear in Nigeria. A doctor may be at the head of a surgery, but the patient’s relations have no way of knowing if something goes wrong.

If complaints arise, the absence of access to materials that could help in making their cases, further deter relations from following up on unprofessional treatment.

There have been many cases of negligence that led to death, but the lack of proof, and the fact that relations of the dead do not have the means to seek justice rested matters.

Medical practitioners also have a penchant for covering up for their colleagues, since punishment may soil their image and affect the establishment where they work.

Perhaps, one practice that enhances unprofessional conduct is the consent relations of patients sign, absolving surgeons of responsibility, if a surgery goes awry.

This consent which is a condition for most surgeries leaves patients and their relations with hardly any rights if there is negligence.

When using a medical facility, patients cannot ascertain the worthiness of the equipment, the qualifications and experience of the practitioners or quality of the medications the hospital dispenses.

Poor medical provisions are more rampant with escalating costs of medical equipment and the flight of many qualified medical personnel abroad in search of better rewards for their work.

Negligence in hospitals has become routine. From the inexperienced doctors that are left to manage complicated cases without supervision, to nurses who assume the combined roles of doctors and pharmacists in some instance, medical practice is becoming open to many abuses which often go unnoticed. Most hospitals treat all ailments without the proper equipment or right personnel.

Spanish authorities punished the doctor not because Mrs. Obasanjo was involved.  In societies that have realised the importance of openness to the sustenance of justice and improved living conditions for humanity, there are laws to ensure these. The laws are enforced without exception.

The official confirmation of the issues around Mrs. Obasanjo’s death provides a great opportunity to examine our medical practices.

Unfortunately, our President and those  who  can change the situation, meet their medical needs abroad and do not bother about millions of other Nigerians.

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