• Wednesday, June 12, 2024
businessday logo


As government looks away, Nigerians die on account of medical negligence in hospitals


Tunji Dimeji is still in so much rage and pain after his mother, who was battling a kidney condition was rushed to the hospital when her condition became critical, died because she was left unattended to for hours despite the urgency of her condition.

“When we got to the Wuse General Hospital Abuja, the doctors were just taking their time, ignoring the urgency of her condition. I had to get a stretcher from the hospital myself, placed her on it and moved her to the hospital corridor, where we waited. She died after she was finally admitted. I was mad! I just consoled myself and accepted that it was the will of God,” Dimeji tells BusinessDay.

Another distraught Nigerian, Chukwu James, narrating a similar painful experience, says he was devastated when his mother, who took ill from a yet to be diagnosed condition, died because they were made to wait six hours for the doctor who gave them an appointment for 9am but came in at 3pm.

“After waiting, the doctor just strolled in, so casually and unperturbed. He asked my mother a few questions and scribbled down some prescriptions and we were asked to go. My mother died on my laps on our way home. Government hospitals are death traps! I am constantly reminded of the pain each time I see National Hospital, Abuja,” he cries out.

James was later to find out that this doctor who came late has a private hospital he services, saying that was probably why he was inexcusably late that fateful day.

James and Dimeji’s cases are instances of the thousands of helpless Nigerians with unpalatable experiences; many patients who get lucky to be alive often lose body part(s) or develop other critical conditions which they are forced to live with for the rest of their lives.

This level of growing negligence continues to escalate medical tourism as some Nigerians who can afford it continue to seek medical services abroad with attendant consequences for depleting foreign reserves. Though Nigerians with the financial resources often institute legal, several others, bitterly accept their fate as “the will of God.”

While the problem of medical negligence persists, government authorities unfortunately are yet to take specific and conscious steps to nip the problem in the bud.

Ben Murray Bruce, a former senator/founder, Silverbird Group, took to his Twitter account on August 10, 2020, lamenting on the issue.

“I am worried about our medical profession and how they treat patients. Have you ever sued a doctor or a hospital in Nigeria for negligence that resulted in the death of a loved one, or do you just say it was the will of God? This is serious. We must begin to ask questions.

“This sparked reactions from thousands of Nigerians who shared their bitter experiences of their loved ones who died a highly preventable death,” Bruce noted in the tweet, which attracted thousands of reactions just within one hour.

“This is a very serious issue. A friend was knocked down by a vehicle, they took him to a hospital in Aba, the nurses requested that we buy emergency card, after they paid, they were told the doctor might come or not,” a Nigerian replied Bruce’s tweet.

“Negligence killed about 5 persons in a teaching hospital where I was hospitalised. This particular lady was complaining of pains, she called the nurses’ attention for two hours, when the nurse, who was busy with her phone came to attend to the lady, she was dead,” another respondent, Ehiz Emmanuel, said.

“They killed my mother in Umuahia, she needed a non-breather mask to stay alive with enough oxygen instead they gave her nasal cannula. Even basic lifesaving train they don’t have,” Obi equally tweeted, also in response to Bruce.

The Rules of Professional Conduct for Medical and Dental Practitioners, also known as the Code of Medical Ethics, specify professional negligence as – failure to attend promptly to a patient requiring urgent attention; incompetence in the assessment of a patient, making an incorrect diagnosis, making a mistake in treatment, prescribing the wrong drug in error, asking several others.

Medical practitioners are also governed by ‘The Hippocratic Oath,’ where they pledge to serve humanity to the best of their ability and without discrimination of any sort.

Despite these, cases of negligence are not hard to find, especially in public hospitals.

A 2017 survey on medical errors in Nigeria published by Archives of Medicine and Health Sciences showed a prevalence of negligence at 42.8 percent per 145 medical practitioners.

According to the report, the three most common errors were error of medication prescription, which was put at 95.2 percent; error of radio-laboratory investigation ordering at 83.9 percent, and error of physician diagnoses at 69.4 percent.

Responding to BusinessDay inquiries, Ekpe Philips, chairman, Nigerian Medical Association, FCT chapter, explains that the endemic rot in the entire Nigeria’s health care system is the reason for this persistent negligence.

He says Nigerian medical practitioners are frustrated because they are overburdened by poor remunerating welfare.

According to Philips, a doctor is supposed to see 300 patients as prescribed by WHO, but what is obtained in Nigeria is 1:1000 patients.

He notes that Nigerians who migrated to the western world do better and are even sought after because they have all they need to discharge their duties effectively.

The chairman says what is even more disturbing is the lack of political will by the Nigerian government to address these challenges claiming lives of its citizens.

“No meaningful intervention has been put in place by the government, the Nigerian environment is too hostile for doctors to thrive,” he posits.

A nurse at the Federal Medical Centre, Nasarawa State, who pleads anonymity, says medical practitioners are often overwhelmed due to inadequate personnel, saying the dearth of facilities is also a contributing factor.

“Due to corruption, money allocated for the provision of equipment such as beds, etc, are usually embezzled. Sometimes, when we experience power failure, the nurses make do with their phone touch light. These poor working condition sometimes frustrate us.

“We are not even paid as should, no incentives. If you don’t see the fruit, when giving your best, it’s discouraging and may not spur you to do better,” she stresses.

But Adaobi Onyechi, a public health expert, notes that there is no excuse to medical negligence, pointing out that the duty of any medical practitioner is to first save human lives, and “any doctor who does not have this goal at heart, should not even practice in the first place.”

The Medical and Dental Council Nigeria (MDCN) in a terse response to the issue notes they have a tribunal that tries cases of medical negligence and that Nigerians are urged to seek redress by writing to the council.

The MDCN’s tribunal has the power to withdraw a doctor’s licence to practice.

But several Nigerians who spoke with BusinessDay on the matter said they were not aware that a tribunal existed where they could seek redress, others said the slow processes of seeking justice and lack of confidence in the system was a big discouragement.

Abdusalam Lekan, public relations officer at the MDCN, declines comment on the number of medical professionals that have been sanctioned. However, in 2019, the council said it was investigating 120 doctors for various professional misconducts, while 60 others were awaiting trial at the Tribunal. It also investigated two cases in July.