Blood shortage, medical negligence; Insurance industry’s intervention

Blood shortage, medical negligence; Insurance industry’s intervention

Medical professionals have not ceased receiving backlashes from sections of the public for one negligence of duty or the other at some medical facilities resulting in deaths or permanent total disability of some patients.

In some of these instances, legal suits among others became apparent. Indeed, it is not only medical professionals who find themselves at the ‘human’ side of their professions; some civil contractors have also come under severe public and media backlash after buildings they were constructing gave way!

The recent fines for negligence

The call for the enforcement of the professional indemnity insurance cover is becoming more imperative as triggered by the recent case of a Medical Specialist Centre where an Accra High Court slapped the facility with a whooping GH₵323,000 for medical negligence that led to the paralysis of a baby in one part of his body.

This is just one of the many reported incidents involving medical negligence and its attendant worrisome developments.

The court found the specialist obstetrician gynecologist, to have negligently failed to live up to the professional medical standards in providing the necessary antenatal care.

Regardless of the best medical treatment to have a healthy child delivered of its mother, this did not end well leading to a situation as described as e child “handicapped for life.”

The parents of the child sued the facility for professional negligence. Truly, in my opinion though some forms of negligence may not be avoided, legal suits for negligence could be avoided as the quantum demanded by plaintiffs are often through the roofs!

Blood shortage as a factor?

Talking to some medical professionals in the heat of legal suits in contemporary times, it is easy to conjecture that the shortage of blood in our blood banks owing to poor voluntary donations by Ghanaians could be a factor.

One of such health workers posited that they, health professionals are naturally guided by their professional ethics to ensure that their patients sleep before they sleep! On many occasions, the delays in getting compatible units of blood to save lives have the potential of causing deaths and other forms of disability in patients. When this happens, the patient and or their relations would naturally not spare the health professionals and facilities involved.

It is therefore refreshing to learn that Ghana’s insurance industry having recognized this gap have decided to embark on a nationwide blood donation exercise by their own employees. This, I will describe as a call in the right direction given the fact that the Insurance Act 2021 (Act 1061) makes it mandatory for medical professionals, other professionals to have the appropriate insurance policies in place to protect them.

The Professional Indemnity Insurance in the Act

According to Section 216 of the Insurance Act 2021 (Act 1061),

(1) ‘An employer of a professional person specified in the Second schedule shall insure and maintain an insurance under any qualifying professional indemnity insurance contract with a licensed insurer for the professional person’.

(2) If the employer or another person takes out and maintains two or more professional insurance contracts, the insurance contracts, taken together, shall comply with the Regulations with respect to the minimum amount of professional indemnity insurance required.

(3) An employer that contravenes sub-section (1) commits an offence and is liable of summary conviction to a fine or a term of imprisonment or to both as specified in the First Schedule.

Scope of Cover of a professional indemnity insurance

As clearly stipulated in Section 217, a professional indemnity insurance contract shall, indemnify the insured professional against:

  • the liability of the professional person for loss or damage caused to another person where the claim arises from
  • a negligent act, error or omission, a negligent misstatement or misrepresentation or a breach of a duty of care in connection with the carrying on by the person of the business;
  • the dishonesty of the employees of the insured professional or persons engaged under a contract for services and, in the case of a body corporate, the directors of the body corporate; or
  • the loss or theft of documents and data, including the cost of replacement, the reinstatement of data and the increased cost of working;
  • the legal and other costs connected with the defending a claim referred to paragraph (a); and
  • the cost of investigating and settling such a claim.

The Definition of a professional

Apart from medical doctors, conventionally, legal practitioners, engineers and architects were regarded as the only ‘professionals’. In the technological age, however, the demand for essential services over time, has broadened the scope of professionals to include persons who offer specialist advice and consultancy, among others. In line with their duties, professionals are often exposed to various perils, which may not only undermine their competences, but also cause them financial and other losses.

It is quite regular to have professionals faulted in the course of their professional conducts and in my opinion, medical professionals in the discharge of their duties find themselves in the most delicate of approaches all in the bid to save lives.

Why Medical Professionals?

Medical professionals because they are seen as ‘next to God to determine whether one lives or dies’! That notwithstanding, suits brought against them have a crippling effect on the level of confidence some members of the public have in the ‘correctness’ of some facilities and the professionals who man them thus leading to bruised reputations.

These professionals undertake to uphold the highest standards of professionalism in pursuant of their professional obligations. Most countries, particularly in the Western world, have medical negligence law, which provides compensation to patients in the event of any harm arising from sub-standard medical treatment.

While a medical professional or health facility may not be directly liable for the harm a patient might suffer while in their care, they are, however, legally responsible for harm or injuries to patients that arise directly from their negligence or deviation from the standard care required of them. 

Patients’ expectations

Undoubtedly, organizations’ reputation for professionalism engenders public trust. Very often, a professional’s reputation is only as good as his or her last job delivered. Whilst true professionals always strive to deliver the best service, the human element, undoubtedly, has its own toll on this hence the reason in their bid to save lives without available stiocks of blood, they may be compelled to do everything possible to save lives. This is, however, not a subtle endorsement of mediocrity, except to say, every professional is bound to make a mistake or two at some point while holding on to good intentions in their delivery. Thus, even the best surgeon may perform a bad surgery, sometimes in a desperate attempt to save a life with limited naturally restorable resources such as blood.

Rights of customers triggered

Many people, not just Ghanaians have awakened to their rights to legal redress against negligent medical doctors hence fines creating the urgent need to clearly take the issue of Professional Indemnity policies seriously. This will ultimately be beneficial to the professional. 

The role of the Medical & Dental Council and Allied bodies

With the rising spate of legal suits being brought against members of the medical fraternity, it is about time the Medical and Dental Council and allied bodies took seriously an engagement with with the Insurance Regulator making it a prerequisite for all medical professionals and health facilities to take up such a policy in their own interest prior to their practice.

In lieu of this and as stipulated in section 216 of the Insurance Act 2021 (Act 1061), the dictates of the Section must be upheld for these institutions to take up professional indemnity policies on behalf of their professional employees.

It is important to note how seriously countries like South Africa, Morocco Togo, Rwanda, and Nigeria take Professional Indemnity Insurance in upholding legislations akin to the provisions in Section 216 of the Insurance Act 2021 (Act 1061) of Ghana.

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