Medical negligence is often the cause of large claims for compensation and complex litigation. The field of obstetrics and gynaecology particularly involves many risks for practitioners, since negligence in this field can have very serious and permanent effects.
Most families will at some time encounter pregnancy and birth, or at least contraception or sterilisation. Negligence pertaining to any of these aspects can have a life changing impact on the persons involved. The possibility exists that a child may be born with brain damage as a result of the practitioner’s negligence. It is also possible that a doctor’s failure to perform a sterilisation procedure properly can lead to the birth of an unwanted child, which will have a major financial and emotional impact on the family as a whole. Pregnancy also goes hand in hand with many risk factors and will always remain a dangerous situation for the mother. A further possibility is the failure of a practitioner to detect abnormalities during pregnancy, while the parents would have elected to terminate the pregnancy had they known of the abnormalities. In all of these instances there is the possibility of a substantial claim for compensation against the practitioner. In some cases the doctor is even required to maintain the child financially, since the child would not have been born had the practitioner not been negligent.
Since the amounts claimed are so high practitioners attempt to indemnify themselves by taking out insurance. The premiums they pay is however extremely high and indeed some of the highest paid by doctors. Experts are of the opinion that insurance may soon become unaffordable for these doctors and that doctors in the private health sector may even cease practising obstetrics and only continue with gynaecology.
The problem has developed into a cycle. Firstly, more doctors are required to help with the extremely high workload. Doctors are thus overworked and do not devote enough time to each patient. Errors slip in easily and the number of negligence claims increases. The amounts claimed by patients are also ever increasing. The result is that doctors are inclined not to practice in this field of medicine or to stop practicing obstetrics at a relatively young age. There is therefore not enough doctors to care for the enormous amount of patients. With time against them and a workload too big to handle the cycle simply starts again.
The permissibility of these claims and the amounts awarded should be considered in order to eliminate the possibility that private obstetric care may come to an end. One can however not only look at the symptoms of the problem, but the very core, namely negligence, must be attended to by providing proper advice and guidelines for these doctors.