Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 25 March 2018

More than 500 medical complaints made in Dubai last year

The complaints can range from minor grievances to gross failures and came as the Arab Health Congress discussed medical malpractice.

DUBAI // More than 500 medical complaints were filed against doctors and private and public hospitals or clinics in the emirate last year.

These could range from minor grievances to gross failures leading to patient deaths.

The number of complaints were revealed by the Dubai Health Authority.

Malpractice and medical negligence has come under the spotlight at an Arab Health Congress for the first time.

It looked at how the UAE’s laws were applied to doctors when things went wrong by way of a mock medical trial.

“There is a massive problem. We know that the numbers of medical malpractice [complaints] are increasing. It is rising year on year,” said Stephen Ballantine, a senior associate at Galadari Advocates and Legal Consultants in Dubai, who hosted the mock trial.

“Quite simply, medical malpractice is where a physician, when treating a patient fails to meet the required standard of care.”

A victim of medical malpractice has the option of pursuing a complaint in three different ways in Dubai, Mr Ballantine said – filing a civil case at the Dubai Court, filing a complaint with the Dubai Police or Public Prosecutor that may result in a criminal case against the doctor or surgeon involved and, finally, filing a complaint with the Dubai Health Authority.

“I am guessing most physicians are aware of the regulatory side but it is the civil and criminal side they have not got much awareness of,” he said. “There are serious and far-reaching consequences for medical malpractice.”

More than 100 medical professionals gathered for “The Mock Civil Trial: Medical Malpractice in the UAE”. Papers taken from a real case were used to show the importance of understanding the legal basis of medical malpractice.

The case centred on a British expatriate who developed serious complications following an emergency caesarean section.

She accused a doctor of being incompetent and complained of severe pain and disfigurement following the removal of a drain from her abdomen, and demanded millions in damages.

Mr Ballantine, speaking on the sidelines of the mock trial, said the way medical malpractice was dealt with in the UAE differed from other countries.

“The real difference between the UAE and anywhere else is not so much the civil side, nor the regulators of the profession, it is the criminal side, which I think most physicians are worried about,” he said. “In the UAE, medical malpractice leading to permanent disability or death is a crime as well as a civil wrong.

“In the UK, for it to be criminal it has to be gross malpractice, it has to be almost reckless. In South Africa there is no criminal negligence – there is culpable homicide so there is no criminality if there is no death. So most physicians here get very nervous thinking that an unintentional error means they can go to prison.”

The reporting requirement of malpractice, he said, was also questionable in some areas because of an unrealistic reliance on medical practitioners reporting adverse events – especially where there was a potential exposure to criminal charges.

In Abu Dhabi, for example, he said there was a mandatory duty for the licensed facility and individual professionals to report not only instances of avoidable medical professional errors, but also near misses.

“This is not, as in other countries, done on an anonymous basis where the names of the patient and professionals involved are removed,” he said.

There are concerns that this may add to chronic “underreporting” by practitioners who feel they are exposing themselves to possible criminal action.

“Why would somebody report an incident he could go to jail for? Why would I expose myself to that kind of criminal investigation?” asked Mr Ballantine.

The levels of compensation awarded by UAE courts in medical malpractice cases are also in a different league to that of their peers in the West, although recent court decisions suggest that UAE judges are becoming more comfortable awarding substantially higher levels of compensation, he said.

The Arab Health Congress concludes on Thursday at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre.