The nightmare of medical mistakes

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Okaz/Saudi Gazette

SAUDI citizens have not forgotten the story of Riham Al-Hakami, a victim of medical malpractice. The 12-year-old girl, who was admitted to a Jazan hospital for sickle cell anemia, was mistakenly given HIV-tainted blood during a transfusion.

The growing numbers of medical mistakes have terrified patients and many are afraid of visiting hospitals for treatment, especially surgeries.

Most stories of medical errors are highly exaggerated. Yet it is a major issue and the Health Ministry is trying its best to reduce such episodes at public hospitals.

A former ministry official attributed the growing cases of medical errors to a lack of training, negligence and a poor healthcare system.

He emphasized the need to take care of three matters to reduce such cases. First, we should focus on training medical practitioners and monitor their performance. Second, hospitals should have necessary health facilities and qualified doctors and paramedical staff. Third, doctors and other medical staff should maintain harmonious relationships between them and work as one team.

“Otherwise, there is every chance for mistakes. They should also make use of the best medical equipment and devices available in the market,” the former official said.

Doctors and nurses should not be allowed to practice if they do not possess relevant professional certificates.

"Every surgical operation at the hospital must be conducted under the supervision of a specialist and the operations must be done following the specifications set by the ministry,” he said.

He said it was unfair to punish a doctor for a medical mistake if his or her support staff were not qualified or the equipment used in the operation was not up to the standard set by the ministry.

An informed source told Okaz/Saudi Gazette that legal health committees issued 4,524 verdicts in medical error cases in the past five years.

These committees have been successful in settling many such issues. Each committee is headed by an A grade judge and punishments are issued on the basis of Shariah principles.

The ministry's officials have highlighted efforts to reduce medical mistakes by contracting highly qualified doctors, nurses and technicians. The Saudi Commission for Health Specialties scrutinizes their certificates before endorsing them.

The ministry set up five new legal health committees last year in Riyadh, Taif, Dammam, Al-Jouf and Hail. It also conducted a detailed study on the reasons for growing medical error cases in the country.

It has revised the rules and regulations governing medical practitioners to cope with modern developments.

There is a plan to develop the legal health committees and bring them under the Justice Ministry.

Last year the legal health committees adopted 1,097 decisions after holding 4,282 sessions. They had to make an average of 3.9 sessions to issue a single decision. There were 408 decisions regarding deaths that have occurred as a result of medical mistakes while 185 (45 percent) defendants were convicted. Taif topped the list of convicted medical staff with 32, followed by Makkah 30 and Riyadh 23.

Khaled Abdulkareem, director of emergency and external relations at a private hospital, blamed medical teams and hospitals for medical mistakes.

“Doctors are required to provide maximum care to their patients. Mistakes occur as a result of the negligence of doctors, nurses or hospital management,” he told Okaz/Saudi Gazette.

Medical mistakes have become a nightmare for patients and many of them approach hospitals with fear.

Journalist Mohammed Al-Thubaiti died when medical staff accidentally removed the oxygen tube from him and they did not know how to restore supply. As a result, Al-Thubaiti slipped into a three-week coma before breathing his last.

In Riyadh, a woman was taken to the labor room. The loss of a large amount of blood during post-delivery care left her brain-dead. She was pronounced dead 23 days later.

Awad Al-Harthi from Taif still remembers with horror how his wife died at King Faisal Hospital after she walked into the facility on her feet. She slipped into a coma after a surgery.

Abdul Aziz Al-Aili died following a minor operation. His condition became worse after leaving the operation room.

A Saudi woman died at a private hospital in Makkah following delivery and her husband thought she died of medical error.

Ali Al-Hattab, who represents a number of medical error victims, said many of the cases occurred as a result of medical and administrative reasons. He emphasized the need to review the quality of services at hospitals run by the ministry.

“Such mistakes will not happen at hospitals that follow specific standards,” Al-Hattab told Okaz/Saudi Gazette.

He emphasized the need to conclude partnership agreements with reputable international health service companies and take measures to eradicate administrative corruption.

“The curricula for medical students must include matters related to medical errors in order eliminate such mistakes in the future,” he opined.

Doctors must be asked to read textbooks on medical errors before their licenses are renewed, he added.

Fahd Mahboub, a legal adviser, spoke about measures to be taken to deal with medical errors. Relatives must obtain the victim’s medical file, prevent defendants from leaving the Kingdom, and a legal agent must be appointed to defend the victim.

The plaintiff should fill form No. 10 and attach the medical report as well as the primary medical committee’s recommendations. All documents including X-rays and blood tests must be attached. Relatives can also send the medical file to other agencies for verification and necessary advice.


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