Medical practitioners, health administrators, academics and policy makers have examined how their actions or inaction may lead to legal claims against them.
The health professionals were made aware of various laws governing professional negligence and medical malpractice at a workshop on Case Law and Medical Practice in Africa organised by the Ghana Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (GIALS) on May 23-24 at the British Council, Accra. GIALS is an affiliate of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. (See details of the relationship between the two institutions at https://ials.sas.ac.uk/about-us/news/ials-supports-new-ghana-institute-advanced-legal-studies-gials).
Through discussions of decided cases and presentations, participants were exposed to typical examples of medico-legal issues relating to liability of medical professionals, duty of care, errors in diagnosis and failure to warn patients of certain symptoms of medical interventions or drugs prescribed, among others.
Legal action in alleged cases of medical malpractice and professional negligence is on the rise in Ghana. Although very few cases have been decided against medical practitioners in Ghana, the trend across Africa shows that it is only a matter of time before medical practitioners are held liable for negligence or malpractice.
Medical malpractice and professional negligence may result in criminal and civil liability, as well as disciplinary action by the Medical and Dental Council of Ghana.
Attending the workshop, retired Supreme Court Judge and Professor of Law, Justice Date-Bah, who is a member of the GIALS’ Advisory Council, said:
Medicine and the Law is a battle area and we need to bring the rule of law into that area. In Ghana, it is said that health professionals never testify against themselves and therefore there is a real hurdle to litigation of medical malpractice cases. It is important that health professionals should put the public interest first. On the other hand, we do not want to go the other way such as in America where doctors may fear to touch patients for fear of malpractice. There has to be a middle way somewhere.
The workshop was facilitated by Professor David McQuoid-Mason, a renowned medico-legal trainer, from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Professor McQuoid-Mason has taught Law and Medical Practice courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level. He is also the President of the Commonwealth Legal Education Association. Professor McQuoid-Mason specialises in Medical Law, Access to Justice and Legal Education. He had this to say concerning the workshop:
The Ghanaian doctors participated very enthusiastically in the Workshop and I learnt much about the important medico-legal issues in the country. I really enjoyed interacting with the Ghanaian doctors at the Workshop and sharing with them the importance of following the bioethical principles in their daily practice. If they do this they will be acting in accordance with the Ghanaian Constitution, statute law and the Common Law and they and the public will be protected from litigation. I look forward to coming back and doing something similar for the nurses.
The organiser of the workshop Mr. Victor Chimbwanda, who is the Policy Dialogue and Projects Coordinator at GIALS, confirmed that the Institute would further engage with organisations such as the Ghana Medical Association, the Medical and Dental Council of Ghana and the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Ghana to organise future training programmes relevant to medical and health professionals in Ghana to increase awareness of medico-legal issues, ethics and health law in general. Mr Chimbwanda is currently a PhD candidate at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.