Thai Doctors Protest Proposed Malpractice Liability Law

July 30, 2010

Across Thailand many doctors traded their white coats for black on Thursday to protest a draft law that would give victims of medical malpractice legal rights to win compensation.

The law would be the first of its kind in Thailand, where malpractice complaints face resistance from doctors, hospitals, police and many get dismissed from court for lagging too long in the system, according to proponents of the bill.

Doctors say they fear it would open them to increased risk of lawsuits and make the medical community nervous about doing its work, in addition to straining already tight budgets.

The new law would create a new compensation fund that hospitals would have to contribute to that would be used to compensate victims of medical mishaps.

The Medical Association of Thailand, the doctors’ trade body, wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva asking him to postpone sending the Medical Malpractice Victim Protection Bill to Parliament next week for its first scheduled reading. Doctors in dozens of hospitals around the country wore black to support the protest, local media reported.

The association’s president, Jongjate Aojanepon, said the bill has flaws and has led to misunderstandings in the medical community that need to be addressed before it becomes law to avoid time-consuming amendments later on.

Another argument is not one patients will want to hear.

“It means our staff would have to be extra careful during work, which would decrease efficiency,” said Somkid Auapisithwong of Thai Federation of Doctors, Main Hospitals and General Hospitals, which looks after the interests of medical practitioners in state hospitals. “We’re already very stretched. Some of our nurses have to work almost 365 days. This would add more stress to our staff. They would have to be extra careful with all sorts of risks — and this will hinder their work.”

State hospitals and clinics are the main targets of malpractice suits. Of 810 complaints last year _ that received compensation of 73 million baht ($2 million) _ 789 of the cases were filed against state facilities, according to the National Health Security Office.

Proponents of the law say it is long overdue.

“The gist of the bill is simple: compensation for loss and damage as the result of medical malpractice,” said Preeyanan Lorsermvattana, who has worked for nearly two decades to help victims of malpractice and heads the Thai Medical Error Network.

“Previously victims would have to go through an arduous process to be compensated,” she said. “This bill would shorten the process and victims could get compensated without having to go to court.”

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