The Human Factor in Medical Blunders

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By Tapiwa Mkabeta WINDHOEK An English proverb says: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” However, claims of malpractice involving medical workers could prompt members of the public to take this adage so seriously that they really would at all costs want to stay far from hospitals. Maria Kavezembi, the Director of Health in the Oshikoto Region, in an article published late last month in New Era lamented the fact that Government has lost a huge amount of money settling lawsuits that came about as a result of medical blunders. In trying to enquire how much money and many cases the Ministry of Health and Social Services has spent on compensating victims of alleged malpractice in the medical field, Kavezembi refused to divulge such information. “I also have boundaries when talking about these issues,” she said. In a statement, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Social Services, Dr Kalumbi Shangula, said that claims against the health ministry present themselves in different categories and forms. He said the nature of cases dealt with by the ministry is mostly related to administrative procedures and medical issues. In the same statement, Shangula said that the ministry also dealt with litigation cases from all the thirteen regions. A few years back, a resident of the Kavango Region endured excruciating abdominal pains after a doctor inadvertently left a surgical instrument in his abdominal cavity during surgery. The patient endured pain for several months after his operation and it was only after an x-ray was performed on him that the presence of an instrument was detected. Should this be classified as negligence, inefficiency or mere error? Shangula said that the case from Rundu was an isolated one and could never ever be classified as standard error, which some medical professionals are in the habit of committing. On enquiry about how many cases of medical malpractice have been recorded in the courts, some legal practitioners stated that they have not represented many cases where patients have sued hospitals or the health ministry for malpractice. Some lawyers have expressed concern that most cases of medical malpractice never find their way to court because most people do not know the channels to follow in order to be compensated in the aftermath of serious medical malpractice. One private doctor said, “Sometimes in emergency cases things have to be done quickly to help patients, and this is when mistakes happen.” Meanwhile, the Medical Association of Namibia (MAN) says they do not have any records of medical malpractices.