By Emsie Martin
These days it feels as if more and more people are dying due to medical “complications”. However, what are your options if you think you might have been the victim of medical negligence?
The Health Department has issued a Patient Bill of Rights that explains a patient’s rights and responsibilities when you go for treatment to a place where your health is taken care of.
The Patient Bill of Rights remind us that every patient has the right to –
- receive treatment in a healthy and safe environment;
- participate in decision-making that affects his/her health;
- have access to places where he/she can get health care;
- information about his/her treatment.
A patient must be fully informed in advance regarding all possible risks, side effects and alternative treatments so that he or she will be able to make the right decision.
In terms of the Patient Bill of Rights, a patient also has the right to –
- be treated by a trained health care professional or an approved health care institution, and that information about yourself and your treatment will be confidential;
- give consent for treatment because he or she has been given enough information and the right information;
- refuse treatment;
- be referred for a second opinion to another health care practitioner;
- receive continued care;
- complain about poor health care service and to receive feedback.
It is your duty to take care of your own basic health. You as a patient must provide all relevant information to the doctor so that the doctor can make an accurate diagnosis.
The doctor is expected to explain to the patient in clear, comprehensible language what the diagnosis is and what treatment is advised.
There may be recognised complications during a procedure without the cause being medical negligence.
What to do
If you believe you have been a victim of medical malpractice or negligence, it is imperative that you consult an attorney who has the necessary specialised knowledge on how proceed with this legal case.
Medical malpractice is not limited to medical doctors, but also applies to nurses, dentists, healthcare facilities (problems with medication, hygiene or treatment) and healthcare services such as nursing homes and cosmetic service providers, to name a few.
Below is a list of common examples of “medical negligence”:
- Inappropriate intervention during complications with the labour and birth process
- Mistakes with prescriptions
- Negligence at a hospital/emergency unit
- Delay in treatment
- Misinterpretation of X-rays / mammogram
- Negligence in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer
- Malpractice in plastic surgery
- Dental malpractice
- Paediatric malpractice
- Malpractice with anaesthesia
- Incorrect blood transfusions
- Amputation of the wrong limb
- Removal of the wrong organ
- Misdiagnosis of a condition
- Performing surgery without the necessary care and expertise
May I lodge a claim?
If you believe you are a victim of medical negligence, you have the right to look at your own medical records, charts and information. These records can also help you to make a solid case.
Hospitals are responsible for the wrongful acts committed by doctors and nurses in their employ, and action may be taken against them. Most doctors are insured against possible medical malpractice.
Claims due to a medical malpractice are not always successful because negligence must be proven. Even a skilled doctor can sometimes make an error of judgement, prescribe the wrong treatment of perform the wrong operation, with possible serious consequences for the patient.
During a procedure, there may be recognised complications without the cause being medical negligence. However, negligence must be proven. To succeed with such a claim, there must be proof that the damage suffered was due to the doctor’s failure to take the necessary care.
- If you want to complain about a clinic, a community health care centre or a day hospital in your area, search for the complaints box and place your complaint in it. Or speak to the manager of the clinic or the head of the centre where the health care is offered.
- If you want to complain about health care in your province for which the local government is responsible, call 021 483 5624.
- If you want to complain about health care for which the national government is responsible, call the national complaints centre on 08100 20 14 14.
If no reaction is forthcoming, it would be best to consult the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). If you want to claim damages, contact experienced lawyers who specialise in legal procedures for “medical negligence”.