Medical official slams the new bill

PHOTO: Medical official slams the new bill

DOCTORS are continuing their campaign against the controversial Protection of Victims of Medical Mistreatment Bill, saying the draft law will further complicate issues surrounding malpractice and sow seeds of reluctance among medical workers when it comes to providing treatment.

The bill will certainly widen conflicts between patients and doctors or medical personnel," Dr Methee Wongsirisuwan, a senior member of the Medical Council of Thailand (MCT) said.

Methee, who is an assistant to the council's secretary-general, described the draft law as a "populist policy" - that will please the public because it offers money.

If the bill is passed, he said up to Bt1.4 billion (S$58.4 million) a year will be set aside to provide automatic compensation without the accused being given a shot at defence or medical mistakes being verified. Methee said this would not solve the problem of malpractice or accidental injuries causing disability or death.

"The bill will not solve the problem at the roots, and by paying victims without seeking the truth about mistakes or mistreatment is nothing but utter ignorance," he said.

Methee chose to speak up as a network of malpractice victims continue pushing for the bill through the National Legislative Assembly after failing to do so under previous governments.

The MCT official added that the existing Article 41 of the National Health Security Office Act already granted maximum compensation to medical malpractice victims and it was better because doctors and medical personnel are not deemed culprits who continue hurting or killing patients.

In comparison, the latest bill regards doctors and medical personnel as wrongdoers from the onset, whether or not their mistakes are intentional or accidental, and does not give them a chance to defend themselves or produce proof so they are not liable to lawsuits, the doctor said.

"This automatic accusation will discourage doctors from working as they may fear that complicated treatments will open the door to more mistakes - which will directly affect the patients," he said.

Also, automatic compensation will only encourage victims or their relatives to focus on finding fault with their doctors just so they can get money.

"The bill doesn't put any ceiling on the compensation amount," Dr Methee noted. He said Article 41 offers no more than Bt400,000 in compensation to each victim, and if the patient wants more, they will have to file lawsuits for compensation in court.

In order to better protect and compensate victims of medical malpractice, Methee said a special court, comprising doctors and specific judges, had to be set up instead of getting cases considered under the Protection of Victims of Medical Mistreatment Bill.

Malpractice cases could be tried in a special court by a quorum of special judges alongside doctors or qualified personnel who could provide expert opinions. Also, verdicts would be based on standards that can be used as criteria in judging future cases, Methee said.

So, there was no point in pushing through the bill as the huge budget needed to enforce the law could be better spent on boosting support for state hospitals so they have better equipment and can tackle staff shortages.

"State medical workers should be paid more so they do not leave to take up better paying jobs in private hospitals. Also, state hospitals need a sufficient supply of quality medicines," Methee said.

He lamented that doctors and medical personnel, especially those working at government hospitals, already face several setbacks, ranging from a heavy workload and lack of understanding from patients or their relatives to shortage of manpower and funds, as well as inadequate equipment and facilities.