MAM organises seminar on Medicolegal issues - 3/10/2004

A seminar on the medico-legal issues currently affecting the Medical profession was held on Saturday 2nd October at the Corinthia San Gorg.

The seminar was addressed by Hon. Parliamentary Secretary Dr. Carm Mifsud Bonnici, President Emeritus Prof. Guido Demarco, Dr. Hugh Peralta, and Dr. George Abela. The seminar was also addressed by Dr. Stephen Fava and Dr. Martin Balzan.

MAM council members, representatives of the Medical Council and of all the specialist associations, officials from the Heath Division and patient organisations were invited.

The seminar was well-attended. There appeared to be a consensus to make legislative changes to make clear definitions of what constitutes negligence, and to set up appropriate filters to discourage, and quickly weed out, frivolous claims.


Report in "The Sunday Times"

Seminar discusses division between medical, legal worlds

More knowledge of the problems which medical professionals are facing, especially with regard to criminal and civil responsibility, is needed, Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici said yesterday.

Speaking during a seminar organised by the Medical Association of Malta, Dr Mifsud Bonnici, parliamentary secretary at the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs, said there was still too wide a division between the medical and legal worlds.

He explained that the local criminal and civil codes were formulated much before today's medical advances came into existence.

The seminar, entitled "Recent Developments in the Ethical and Legal Aspects of the Medical Profession", discussed the thin line between negligence and error of judgment by medics in their treatment of patients.

MAM secretary general Martin Balzan explained to The Sunday Times that as yet there is no local law that safeguards both doctors and patients.

The consequence could be the practice of defensive medicine. This, he explained, meant that to avoid being sued, doctors would carry out extra tests, not because these were necessary.

Such a practice would have a number of consequences, both on the economy as well as on the patient and the health system. Dr Balzan said health costs would increase greatly, with waiting lists at all levels becoming longer.

For patients, this could mean being exposed to more radiation if they have more X-rays taken, while an increase in investigative interventions - as minor as they might be - would increase the trauma and risk for them.

Another consequence, he explained, could be that the more complicated or difficult cases are either not operated at all, or start being referred to more specialised centres in the United Kingdom in a bid to avoid litigation.

He said that when something went wrong in the treatment of a medical condition, this was most often due to the disease. He said doctors were expected to be cautious and reasonable and to practise along established lines and not be negligent.

If the line of negligence were crossed, then the patient could rightly take the physician to court.

During the seminar, former President Guido de Marco explained the difference between error of judgment and negligence. He said while the former was not criminally liable, negligence could amount to criminal liability.

Dr Balzan said the MAM wanted the local legislation to follow the British model in order to strike a balance between patients' and doctors' rights.

Dr Mifsud Bonnici said it would not be a bad idea for locals to study criteria used in foreign countries on this issue, and start a process so that local laws are changed to reflect today's reality.

The parliamentary secretary also spoke on the need for a law regulating assisted fertilisation. He stressed the importance of regulating this sector as soon as possible.

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