MEDICAL NEGLIGENCE IN NIGERIA: THE LEEWAY OUT – S. A OMOTOSO
In almost every extended family in Nigeria, the life of at least one person has been lost due to “avoidable” deaths from medical negligence. This is the sad tale on the lips of every Nigerian who knows someone directly or indirectly that has been a victim of medical negligence. But the reactions of most Nigerians do not exceed “hmm”, like it is a moral lesson from the popular WAP TV drama “Super Story” or “This Life”. Indeed it is a super story that 1 percent of all cases of Medical negligence actually get to court for claim of damages or criminal prosecution. We rather leave it to God.
Devastating stories of a Doctor negligently cutting the head of a baby during a cesarean section gone wrong, to doctors and nurses allowing a patient to bleed to death because he cannot produce a police report like the police report is the key to eternal life. The question amidst all these is;
Are they no laws in place to address medical negligence issues in Nigeria? In actual fact, they are.
For instance; the Gunshot Victims Act 2017 in Section 1 stipulates that a person with a gunshot wound shall be received for immediate and adequate treatment by any hospital in Nigeria with or without initial monetary deposit and shall not be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment or torture by any person or authority, including the Police and other security agencies.
Section 20 (1) of the National Health Act (NHA) states that a healthcare provider, health worker or health establishment shall not refuse a person emergency medical treatment for any reason whatsoever…” The Act went further to slam a sanction of N100,000 fine or six months’ imprisonment.
It is therefore evident that they are laws. Unfortunately, the law is like an unloaded gun, without bullets and pressing the trigger; the gun is only as effective as an artifact. However, bringing the medical practitioners to book by suing them in law courts will be the bullet and the trigger potent enough to fire medical negligence and subsequently bury it.
In several other Nations where Medical Negligence cases get to court, Medical Practitioners are more careful than leaving a scalpel in the abdomen of a patient after an operation. Several years back, a Spanish doctor was sentenced to a year in prison, for his role in the death of the former first-lady of Nigeria. He was disqualified from practicing medicine for three years, and ordered to pay $176,000 in compensation to the victim’s son. Considering the aftermath and punishment that could accrue, Medical Practitioners will try as much as possible to avoid negligence if they know that they will be brought to book for their actions. The fear of law suit will instill more care and diligence in them. If the Doctor in this instant case was not brought to book maybe more of such cases would have ensued.
However, more deadly than medical negligence is the lack of knowledge of the laws set in place by the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly. Most Nigerians are not even aware that these laws exist hence they cannot reap the fruit therein.
Let us consider a descriptive cross-sectional study conducted during the medical conference organized by Ace Medicare Clinics Limited in December 2015, in Nigeria. Ace Medicare Clinics Limited is a foremost private health-care provider, as well as a provider and promoter of continuous professional development (CPD).
The study population comprised health professionals such as medical doctors/dentists, nurses, pharmacists, laboratory scientists, and other health-related professionals in attendance at the conference, with the theme: “The 2014 NHA.”
The data collection instrument was a pretested self-administered questionnaire which comprised sections on sociodemographics (gender, age, marital status, occupation, cadre, and length of practice in occupation), knowledge, and perception of the NHA 2014.
A total of 160 questionnaires were administered to consenting participants at the conference. However, 135 were filled and returned, giving a response rate of 84.4%. Of the 135 questionnaires returned, 5 were incorrectly filled. Therefore, only 130 questionnaires were used for the final data analysis.
The respondents’ age ranged from 21 to 75 years with a mean age of 44.53 ± 12.46 years. There was a male preponderance with a male:female ratio of 1:0.4. Majority (80.8%) were married while medical practitioners accounted for 82.3% of the respondents. The length of practice of respondents ranged from 1 to 42 years with a mean of 16.41 ± 11.85 years, with a higher percentage (33.8%) of the respondents having practiced their profession. Majority (86.2%) of the respondents claimed they were aware of the NHA. However, only 20.8% had seen a copy and 17.7% had read it. Only 18.5% of the respondents could cite the NHA correctly as NHA 2014.
Prior to 2014, the illness was lack of laws, fast track to 2020 the epidemic is ignorance. The cure however lies in the ability of Nigerians who are aware to sensitize (in every way possible) Nigerians who are not.
- Ace Medicare Clinics Limited. Background History. Available from: http://www.acemedicareclinics.com/background-history/. (Last accessed on 2020 Feb 25th)
- Federal Ministry of Health. One Year Anniversary of the National Health Act, 2014; Press Statement of the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Health; 31 October, 2015. Available from: (Last accessed on 2020 Feb 25th)
- Professor Abugu; Patients’ Rights and Medical Negligence. Guest Lecture Delivered at the 24th Discussion Series of Nigerian Bar Association, Unity branch Abuja, Nigeria;
S.A Omotoso is a practicing Lawyer with particular interest in Medical Law. He is a graduate of University of Abuja and the Nigerian law school – Lagos Campus. He is a prolific writer with several published works.
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