Politicians postpone discussion of decriminalization of medical errors

On Tuesday, 26 November, members of Saeima’s Social and Labour Affairs Committee made no decisions in regards to the proposal from Latvian Doctors Association (LAB) to decriminalize medical errors. Instead the committee decided to return to this matter next year, «because there is no reason to rush this topic», said the committee’s chairman Andris Skride after the meeting.

At the beginning of October, LAB turned to Healthcare Ministry and Social Affairs Committee, urging a change of Section 138 of the Criminal Law regarding mistakes in medical practice and negligence and decriminalization of «accidents» in medical practices.

During the meeting, representatives of the medical sector urged changing the law because this would help improve voluntary reporting of committed errors and analysis to assist with prevention. They did, however, agree for the need to carefully discuss changes to the Criminal Law.

The head of the association Pēteris Apinis claimed in the Saeima that under the current regulation doctors are too cautious in their activities to avoid possible criminal liability.
According to him, the fate of doctors in controversial cases depends on police officers and prosecutors.

Andrejs Judins, head of Saeima’s Criminal Law Policy Subcommittee, doubts the proposed changes will improve doctors’ reports about their own committed mistakes. He stresses that the Criminal Law does not have a separate section for medical errors – it does cover negligence. He pointed out that so far, no doctor has been put in prison for criminal violations.

The law covers negligence or refusal to perform professional duties in healthcare if this was followed up by serious damage to the health of treated patients or death.

LAB outlined in a four-page letter an offer to amend the Criminal Law, requesting application of penalties for direct negligence or refusal to perform duties.

LAB stresses that punishment of the guilty and the search for the guilty is inefficient in prevention of mistakes in regards to the punished person or other people «who might never ever consider working better upon seeing the level of penalties applied for mistakes».

LAB mentions as an example that patience often plays an important role in deciding on proper treatment for patients and possibly avoid unnecessary invasive manipulations.

Judins mentioned on his Facebook profile prior to the committee’s meeting that he has looked at the application of Section 138 of the Criminal Law and has concluded that there are very few guilty verdicts.

He added that applied penalties are very mild. On top of that, additional fines are generally not applied. According to information from the Medical Register, guilty persons continue their medical practice, adds Judins. He also mentioned that one doctor, whose previous medical malpractice had caused a death was actively advertised by the media.

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