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12-month suspension is all rogue doctor can get for negligence

Health & Science
Ms Lucy Wanjohi with daughter Josephine Wambui who ended up with a wound on the head following a wrong pneumonia treatment at Malindi District Hospital. [Photo: Paul Gitau/Standard]

By Paul Wafula

Nairobi, Kenya: The severest punishment a doctor convicted for causing death can get is deregistration for a year, a penalty seen as a mere slap on the wrist for errant medical practitioners.

According to a brief by Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board (MPDB) CEO Daniel Yumbya, there are three penalties for a doctor found guilty of a criminal offence.

The first is to admonish the doctor or dentist and conclude the case. “This is done by sending warning letters to practitioners. This decision is from a simple majority,” Mr Yumbya says.

The second penalty would be to place a doctor or dentist on probation. This penalty comes with a requirement that the doctor sources for three persons of good standing and repute.

Find guilty

The probation period, however, does not exceed six months meaning that the doctor can go back to practising in just half a year. Such a penalty was handed last week after the medical tribunal sent back to class a doctor found guilty of causing a patient’s death.

In a landmark ruling by MPDB on Thursday, the tribunal ruled that Dr Jackson Mutinda caused the death of Fanice Khashindi on February 21. But this was not the stiffest penalty the board could have handed the doctor.

The furthest the tribunal could go is to suspend the errant doctor’s licence for a period not exceeding 12 months.

“The board, may after notifying the practitioner, resume consideration of his case before the end of the period of suspension, which is not less than six months, and may order extension of the period or complete erasure,” Yumbya says.

This means the doctor suspended for a year can still be recalled before he or she serves her term. It was not immediately possible to tell how many cases have received severe punishment given that the board would require about one month to organise such data.

However, available data shows that the board has so far received 718 cases out of which 380 cases, representing 44 per cent of the cases lodged, have been finalised.  The remaining are at various stages of investigations with seven having been determined by the 15-member tribunal.

On its website, however, the board says it de-registered Dr William Omondi for medical malpractice and recommended investigation for subsequent prosecution. The absence of severe penalties that would cause doctors or dentists to be less negligent brings a new dimension to the reality of how difficult it can get for patients wronged by doctors to get redress.

The fact that the board does not know where and how much negligence is occurring, unless a complaint is filed, makes it much harder to be proactive in dealing with cases of negligence before they get out of hand.


It also makes the goal of the board, which according to its website is to ‘ensure provision of quality and ethical healthcare through appropriate regulation of training, registration, licensing, inspections and professional practice’ increasingly difficult to attain in whole.

The Standard has been running a campaign against medical negligence, which is in its third week. The series has unearthed the silent suffering of dozens of Kenyans who ended up deformed or incurring extra costs of correcting errors by negligent doctors. But the unlucky ones have ended up dead.

It has also put on the spotlight failure of institutions in the medical fraternity to implement policies that protect patients and make it easier for patients to seek recourse.

However, the MPDB argues that the costs of board sitting, summoning of witnesses, getting specialist reports and cases where complainants are either poor or not based in Nairobi, are among challenges that have seen some complaints dismissed.

The fact that the board and its committees meet at least once every three months makes the process of seeking justice a tortuous and expensive affair, discouraging complainants.

In one case unearthed by this paper, a provisional file was opened and left inactive for five years until the three-year legal window for filing a complaint had passed.

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