The three-month suspension of two doctors at Makarios hospital, pending a police investigation into their involvement in a case of alleged medical negligence, appears not to have been thought through by the health ministry. Perhaps there are no procedures at public hospitals for dealing with accusations of negligence against doctors and the authorities are improvising their response according to the demands made of them.
In the latest case, the parents of a 15-year-old girl, who died last March while she was being treated at Makarios hospital for kidney problems, alleged she had been a victim of medical negligence. A preliminary investigation did not rule out the possibility of negligence and the case file was forwarded to the attorney-general’s office for action, while the public service commission suspended the two doctors for three months.
Staff at the Makarios hospital held a two-hour work stoppage last Thursday in protest against the decision, while the parents of children being treated by the suspended doctors have been expressing their own legitimate concerns. They were to meet the Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantela on Tuesday, although the ministry spokesman has assured that replacements have been lined up – one doctor would be arriving from Greece and another would be moved there from the Nicosia general hospital.
Meanwhile the Cyprus Medical Association has said that doctors should “not be victimised” and have their professional standing destroyed before the investigation had been completed. When doctors are suspended, “it does not mean that they are guilty,” but that the public service commission did not want them at their job while an investigation was in progress, said the spokesman of health services Okypy.
Hadjipantela, who has had to deal with the fallout caused by the suspension, said it was the duty of the health ministry, after it had received a written complaint from the parents, “to investigate this complaint properly and transparently.” This could set a bad precedent for the ministry. Will it suspend doctors to carry out an investigation whenever it receives a written complaint from a patient or their relatives?
The minister said that after the complaint, a medical report was put to together and it would have to be further investigated by police. Are the Cyprus police qualified to investigate a case of medical negligence? Can they distinguish between a wrong call by doctor and medical negligence, which are not necessarily the same thing? A police investigation can only go so far – a doctor’s testimony would be needed for a case of negligence to stand up in court, and it is rare for a doctor to testify against a colleague although it has happened.
There are cases of medical negligence in public and private hospitals but should these be matters for police investigations or should they be the subject of civil suits, relying on the testimony of medical experts?