Early this year, a family made headlines after being awarded Sh46.5 million in a medical negligence lawsuit against The Nairobi Hospital.
High Court judge George Odunga directed the hospital to pay Sh43,469,000 to Mr Jacob Oluochi Ondeko - who was a student at St Mary’s School in 2005 - and Sh1.1 million to each of his parents for a brain surgery gone wrong.
Mr Ondeko had gone for a surgery to rectify a nasal fracture he sustained while playing basketball.
Also, Mater Hospital was this month found culpable of negligence and ordered to pay Sh2.4 million to a woman who suffered a perforated uterus and intestine while undergoing treatment at the facility.
The cost of clinical negligence is soaring, with hospitals struggling under the increasing burden of compensation claims.
Besides, hundreds of doctors found culpable have been sanctioned, with some losing their licences or being directed to undergo supervised training.
Perhaps because of the rising cases of complaints against hospitals and practitioners, the Health Laws (Amendment) Bill — once MPs act on the offending clauses that were detailed in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s memo to Parliament — will require every practitioner to take a professional indemnity cover each year.
The same will apply to health institutions to cover “against professional liability of its staff”.
Between May 2018 and February 22, 2019, at least four leading hospitals have been directed to pay victims of doctors’ negligence a total of Sh106.6 million.
In May last year Nairobi Women’s Hospital was ordered to pay Sh54.7 million to a woman whose child ended up suffering from cerebral palsy due to negligence during birth.
There have been efforts to have the figure reviewed.
In June 2018, Aga Khan Hospital Kisumu was ordered to pay Sh3 million in damages to Ms Antonina Akinyi after a surgical equipment was left inside her body.
The figure Kenyatta National Hospital settled with Mr Simon Kimani Wachira, a victim of mistaken brain surgery, remains unknown.
However, the Professional Conduct Committee of the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board (KMPDB) had in March 2018 directed the hospital to enter into an agreement with Mr Wachira within 60 days.
In the case of doctors, the penalties range from admonishment to deregistration.
A breakdown of the sanctions imposed on medics since 1997 shows that only one doctor has been deregistered.
The data from KPMDB shows that six doctors have had their licences cancelled while nine had theirs suspended for a period of six to 12 months for misconduct over the same period.
Some 16 doctors were “directed to undergo supervised training for a period of six to 12 months”.
However, the highest number of cases, 151, were referred for mediation.
For the last 10 years, the board has dealt with 671 cases, with 72 cases being handled last year. Since the beginning of this year, five complaints have been received.
KMPDB chief executive Daniel Yumbya said the board does not handle some cases since they are taken to the courts directly.
So far, 1,055 cases have been lodged at the board, with 960 of them already determined at various levels while 95 cases are still pending.
Of the 960 cases, 927 were determined at the Preliminary Inquiry Committee, 18 at Professional Conduct Committee (done at county level) while 15 were solved at a tribunal.
Mr Yumbya told the Nation that the penalties imposed on doctors are deterrent enough.
This is despite the number of complaints lodged with the board from 2006 to date remaining constant.
“The penalties for professional doctors are within the acceptable ranges, but we would welcome any other proposal that someone feels we should include as a penalty,” Mr Yumbya said.
He added that compared to professional doctors, quacks often get away with a slap on the wrist.
“Penalties for quacks are very lenient yet they do the most damage to people. That is why in the Health Laws (Amendment) Bill we are proposing heavy penalties for such individuals and institutions,” Mr Yumbya said.
The bill proposes a fine of between Sh5 million and 10 million or a jail term of five years for an unlicensed person, a person who operates an illegal clinic and a person who employs an unregistered person as a medical practitioner or dentist.
To ensure patient safety, the KMPDB has developed a common curriculum for all medical schools in the country.
“When the doctors are going for internship training, there is a checklist for training and targets have been given. For instance, when conducting surgeries, there are certain procedures to be followed so that every student is given sufficient exposure,” Mr Yumbya said.
They are registered after 12 months of acquiring necessary skills. Thereafter, they are exposed to pre-internship examination.
For practicing doctors, there is a compulsory continuous professional development (CPD) course, done online, which is a requirement for renewal of a licence.
“Every doctor must attain at least 50 points within a year before their licence is renewed,” he said.
“We make sure that doctors continuously improve their skills. We have accredited 115 CPD providers that offer programmes aimed at patients safety.”