Abu Dhabi // Doctors could face criminal charges and be jailed for medical negligence under proposals in a draft law presented to the Federal National Council yesterday by the Ministry of Health. A statement from Humaid Mohammed Obaid al Qattami, the Minister of Health, outlined proposals to set up a Higher Medical Liability Committee, bring criminal sanctions against doctors who breach terms of care and set up mortality and morbidity committees in every hospital to examine each death that occurs there.
The draft law, quoted in Mr al Qattami's statement, referred also to doctors facing criminal penalties ranging from detention in jail to fines, but did not make either the process or justifications clear. The proposed measures were fiercely criticised by senior health officials and doctors, who said they contained critical gaps, were professionally inadequate and could lead to an exodus of competent medical practitioners.
The definition of legal concepts such as malpractice, breach of care, liability and negligence were too vague, experts said. FNC members also said the ministry had not done enough to prevent recurring medical errors in hospitals. Salem al Naqbi, an FNC member for Sharjah, said several errors made during simple medical procedures had caused unnecessary deaths this year. "I feel the ministry does not even achieve its own aims to prevent unnecessary deaths," he said. "If they follow good procedures this will definitely affect the unnecessary rate of death." Mr al Qutami sent the proposals to the FNC in response to a question posed by Mr al Naqbi about what the ministry was doing to prevent such errors. The FNC had summoned Mr al Qutami to appear yesterday, but instead he sent the written statement. After its presentation, Mr al Naqbi refused to acknowledge it. He said: "I will not accept this answer. I request the presence of his excellency, the minister." The Health Ministry has full jurisdiction over the northern Emirates, but the draft law would operate on a federal level, across all emirates. It is understood that consultation with all those who would be affected by the law has not taken place and that, if enacted, it would interfere with some regulatory changes in some of the emirates. The Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (HAAD) this year introduced a procedure for dealing with some complaints against health professionals which involved cases being sent overseas for review by independent medical experts. Experts criticised the proposed law for encompassing many topics, such as malpractice, criminal negligence, patient consent and confidentiality, which they said should be dealt with in individual laws. Dr Stephanie Bown, the director of policy and communications at the Medical Protection Society in Britain, said there needed to be a clear distinction between civil and criminal liabilities. "Doctors are human and will make mistakes," she said. "It is important that when something goes wrong, lessons are learned and that patients are compensated fairly for avoidable harm. A culture of disproportionate blame and punishment operates against the culture of openness and improvement necessary to improve patient safety." A doctor who works in the UAE, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the threat of criminal sanctions needed to be properly defined or would not benefit the health care system in any way. "If you want to create world-class medical services, you need to talk to the doctors who are providing the services. Listen to their concerns and suggestions because they are the ones that are going to go in handcuffs to jail," he said. After the FNC meeting, Mr al Naqbi said he wanted to speak with the health minister in person. "We have so many questions about the statement. It is not that simple. There needs to be an independent committee that reviews medical negligence that is independent from the Ministry of Health." In July, the Ministry announced an investigation into the death of a seven-year-old girl who died in Kalba Hospital the day after a routine tonsil operation. A ministry spokesman said Mr al Qutami was heading the investigation himself as the family of the girl had lodged an official complaint. Despite repeated attempts by The National to obtain information from the ministry on the status of the investigation, officials have declined to comment. Mr al Naqbi said he had also been unable to gather any information. "I have personally tried to ask the undersecretary about the case but he never got back to me," he said. "I was told that there was nothing, but they do not want to release any information. The girl died from such a simple procedure. That is why we need answers." Mr al Qutami was not available for comment. firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com