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Regulatory Framework Governing Medical Malpractice/Negligence in Nigeria

Regulatory Framework Governing Medical Malpractice/Negligence in Nigeria

As the saying by most healthcare professionals goes, “We care, God heals”. However, in rendering care it is important to always reflect the minimum standard of professional diligence in ensuring that service providers in the healthcare sector maintain compliance with their overall objective which is to do no harm.

This explains why there exists a legal framework governing the unethical practice of medical negligence, which is what describes the failure of a medical or healthcare professional to do their job in caring or treating a patient, summed up as a “reasonable duty of care”.

This article will thus be focused on the topics of :-

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– What constitutes the Legal and Regulatory Framework governing Medical Malpractice/Negligence in Nigeria.

– What actually constitutes Medical Malpractice or Negligence in Nigeria.

– The extent of liability flowing from medical malpractice and negligence in Nigeria.

– How to obtain legal remedies for damages arising from Medical Malpractice in Nigeria.

What constitutes the legal and regulatory framework governing medical malpractice/negligence in Nigeria?

The benchmark legal framework governing medical malpractice and negligence in Nigeria is the Medical & Dental Practitioners Act of Nigeria 2004 and the Code of Medical Ethics in Nigeria 2008. This act is responsible for the creation of the Medical & Dental Practitioners Investigating Panel(or ‘The panel’) & The Medical & Dental Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal(or ‘The tribunal’).

The panel is entrusted with carrying out prior investigations into allegations of unethical or negligent professional conduct against healthcare/medical practitioners which get passed on the tribunal if they are found to have merit.

What exactly constitutes medical malpractice or negligence in Nigeria?

Medical negligence or malpractice arises when a medical or healthcare professional exhibits a failure to exercise the level of skill or care typically expected of his professional experience in the course of rendering professional medical services to patience.

Examples of medical malpractice and negligence are :-

– Making an inaccurate medical diagnosis in the face of manifestly observable clinical signs or symptoms that could go unnoticed by a diligent medical professional.

– Failure to obtain the necessary consent of a patient or his family/next of kin before administering treatment or carrying out a surgery on that patient.

– The making of grave errors in the course of administering treatment or carrying out a surgery e.g. leaving a medical glove inside the body of a patient after completing a surgery.

– Failing to do anything that should have been done in any case for the safety and recovery of the patient e.g. Failing to administer medical treatment to a patient in critical condition and instead asking for a police report.

– Failing to truthfully and diligently advise a patient on the inherent risks involved in carrying out certain courses of treatment or surgeries.

What is needed to prove the existence of medical negligence in any case?

To prove medical malpractice or negligence the following must exist :-

– The existence of a duty of care owed to a patient by a certified medical practitioner.

– The failure to exercise this duty of care.

– The failure of the medical practitioner actually being responsible for the injury or damage suffered by the patient.

How far does liability emanating from medical malpractice or negligence extend?

Medical malpractice or negligence can either be civil or criminal, giving rise in some cases to a manslaughter charge. Under Civil law, medical malpractice would constitute a more tortious right of action.

Also , liability arising from medical malpractice or negligence can be vicarious in nature, meaning that a hospital can be held liable for the acts or failure of even its non-medical staff to act giving rise to injuries or damages suffered by patients.

How are legal remedies for medical negligence or malpractice sought?

Medical malpractice or negligence claims can be made via criminal petitions in the case of manslaughter, commencing civil actions in court for damages suffered by a patient, or by a petition to the Medical & Dental Practitioners Council of Nigeria via its investigative panel and disciplinary tribunal.

If being found to have merit, the tribunal can either :-

– Reprimand/caution or sternly warn the offending practitioner.

– Suspend the medical practitioner’s license for a period of months

– Strike off the offending practitioner’s name from its professional register.

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