18 June 2017

Nigerians Visiting Doctors May Soon Have Bill of Rights

The Consumer Protection Council, CPC, and the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, have commenced a process for the formulation of an acceptable guide to regulate interaction between patients and medical doctors in the country.

The proposed guide, to be known as Patients' Bill of Rights, will identify rights and privileges in a patient-care giver relationship for the protection of consumers.

The council and the medical association agreed to develop this guide when the President of NMA, Mike Ogirima, led members of his executive team to pay a courtesy call on the Director General of the council, Babatunde Irukera, at the council's office in Abuja over the weekend.

A standing committee, drawing membership from the association and the consumer protection agency, was created at the meeting to immediately advance the finalisation of the document and to expand key areas of collaboration for the promotion of high standards of care and patients' protection.

Speaking during the visit, CPC's director general said it is imperative that the two organisations collaborate and jointly disseminate these rights to consumers to promote higher and safer healthcare standards.

Mr. Irukera said: "We need to ensure people know their rights - the right to information, proper explanation of their medical situation in a language they understand; the right to control decision-making with respect to their treatment regimen; the right to know when to, where to and how to secure a second opinion, if desired".

He asserted that the introduction of the Bill of Rights in Nigeria is long overdue, noting that "nothing improves standards more than consumers demanding it and asking questions".

Mr. Irukera and the NMA president underscored the urgency of the need for the guide when they mutually set a June 2017 deadline for a final draft of the Bill of Rights, just as they also agreed that a short form of the Bill of Rights should be displayed at all public and private healthcare facilities in the country.

Mr. Irukera told the visiting NMA's delegation: "Your industry does not permit any error. The legal industry to which I belong provides successful appeals as many other industries also have built-in redundancies; this is not the case in medicine, which although investigative, requires absolute precision.

He added: "It is tragic that doctors can go on strike. I recognise the fundamentals that are subjects of some of the strikes. However, I have never been able to reconcile the potential and irreversible loss that can and does happen when these strikes occur. One needless permanent injury or death is one too much. We must not trivialize life. I think the rightful partner in reinforcing that message of sanctity of life is the Nigerian Medical Association. For many, saving lives is a motto, but in medicine, it is an obligation".

The director general also raised the possibility of the association establishing a Victims' Compensation Fund from which aggrieved patients or their families may receive some succour for professional malpractice.

The NMA president also called on CPC to support re-orientation retreats for the association's members and other health workers in order to remind them of their sworn oath, which he said "the trends in the society are fast eroding on a continuous basis".

Similarly, Mr. Ogirima also thanked and sought CPC support with respect to the on-going advocacy to make health insurance universal and compulsory.

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