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Medical Negligence and Its Legal Implications in the UAE

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Staff Writer, TLR

Published on July 14, 2023, 17:41:00



Falling prey to an illness or seeing a loved one suffer from one could be heart-breaking; more so, if some suffering could be tracked back to the sheer negligence of Medics. Of course, there is always a scope for reasonable amount of human error – but when human lives are at stake, maybe some lines need to be drawn and certain consequences need to follow if an avoidable suffering or death befalls someone owing to negligence of the very Medics he/she trusted to fight an ailment.  The new medical law of the United Arab Emirates (Federal Law No. 4 / 2016) provides for numerous cases, except for medical liability. The reason for not doing harm is set out in Article 6 of the Act. Here, the lack of caution is termed as “Medical Malpractice”. This article delves into the details of this law and elucidates on the redressal mechanisms.

Medical Negligence and the General View on its Legal Consequences

Medical negligence occurs when a physician or other health care professional renders a patient with inferior care; in other words, he does not provide the type or level of care that a prudent, local, qualified and educated provider would provide in similar circumstances. This means that the provider is negligent and, in rare cases, a doctor's recklessness can trigger a treatment error. Negligence can rise to the level of medical malpractice and occur in a number of different situations, including failing to diagnose adverse conditions, failure to inform patients of serious risks of certain treatments, unacceptable errors in the conduct of operations and other procedures, etc.

In ordinary legal systems, liability for errors in treatment is based on the law of negligence. Actions or omissions that may support an allegation of medical malpractice are a failure to diagnose an illness or disease, a failure to provide adequate treatment for an illness, or an undue delay in treating a diagnosed disease. The law of medical practice differs from country to country, but the general rule of liability is as follows: a physician who does not demonstrate a fair, reasonable, and competent level of skill in the medical care of a patient. In order to win, the victim or the plaintiff must have sustained damage caused by the failure of the doctor to exercise due care. Doctors and healthcare professionals are subject to the rule of negligence. Laws vary according to jurisdiction, and the specific professionals targeted in a lawsuit for malpractice may vary depending on where the lawsuit is filed.

History of Medical Negligence Law in the UAE

Medical Negligence in the UAE was governed by Federal Law Number 10 of 2008, which was later repealed in 2016 by the New Medical Negligence Law. The doctor-patient relationship is recognised by the Medical Liability Act adopted on 16 December 2008, which requires institutions providing health services to conclude insurance contracts for errors in treatment. The Medical Liability Act provides that a physician is liable in the event that he or she commits a medical error in broad outlines with regard to the deviation from what a competent physician would have done in similar circumstances. Claims made in the UAE constitute tort and require compensation in the form of damages. Later on, the New Law on Medical Negligence ie., Federal Law No. 4 of 2016 was enacted to repeal the previous law.

Defining the Grounds: What Constitutes these Offences

Medical malpractice is a legal ground for actions that occur when a medical professional act negligently in the event of actions or omissions that deviate from the standards of his profession and injure a patient. Medical negligence occurs when a doctor makes mistakes or an inaccurate diagnosis or treatment causes injury or death to the patient.

In order to prove criminal medical negligence, the law of 2016 provides that gross medical errors that occur can be punished by imprisonment and fines, but the conditions are never clearly defined, making them difficult to implement in practice. In 2019, the UAE passed Cabinet Resolution No. 40 defining the abovementioned term. Medical Error has been defined in this Law under Article 6 as error committed by the medical practitioner owing to:

“1- Ignorance in the technical matters that are supposed to be known by any practitioner of the same degree and specialization. 2- Non-compliance with the recognized professional and medical principles. 3- Not exercising due diligence. 4- Negligence and not paying attention.”

Article 5 of the abovementioned Resolution defines Gross Medical Error as a build up on the above mentioned term of Medical Error, thereby making a Medical Error which causes a death to a patient (including a fetus), loss of a limb, impairment to a bodily function, or any other, owing to the below-mentioned, are included within the ambit of Medical Negligence:

  1. extreme ignorance of the recognised medical code of practice, as per the degree and specialisation of the profession practitioner;
  2. following a method not medically recognised;
  3. unjustified deviation from the medical rules and code of practice in practising the profession;
  4. the physician is under the influence of alcohol or illegal substances;
  5. gross negligence or lack of clear attention in following the standard procedures, such as leaving medical tools inside a patient’s body, giving a patient the incorrect dosage of medicines, failure to switch on medical equipment during or after the surgical operations, resuscitation, delivery or not giving a patient the medically appropriate medicine or any other acts that may considered as gross negligence;
  6. intentionally practise the profession out the scope of the specialisation or clerical privilege enjoyed by the physician under his/her licence; or
  7. the physician, without medical supervision, issues a diagnosis or administers treatment in which he/she is not qualified or trained to do.

Article 18 of the new law establishes the Medical Liability Committee, a committee to review cases of medical negligence, consisting of medical experts and exclusively deals with complaints. In accordance with the law, when a party files a case of medical negligence or maltreatment, the health authorities of the relevant Emirates shall refer the case to the committee. The channel through which a patient can submit a medical error is provided for in Article 18 of this Act and cannot be changed by an executive decision. The committee makes a report and sends the same to Medical Liability Supreme Council. The compulsory nature of such health insurance provided for in Article 25 implies that doctors will not be able practice unless health care providers insure them to protect them from accusations of malpractice. The investigating procedure works as per Chapter 3 of the Law.

The medical liability law in the United Arab Emirates stipulates that medical professionals are liable if they make a medical error aimed at maximising profit or other benefits. Article 34 of the law punishes doctors who commit medical errors that result in the loss of life of a patient with imprisonment for up to two years and / or a fine of up to 500,000 AED500,000 (136,105 US dollars). It also states that a doctor who commits medical errors or negligence resulting in the loss of a patient's life may be sentenced to two years of imprisonment or a fine (which may be extended) or no more than two years imprisonment, fine or no more if the gross medical error was committed under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

How to File Complaint: Filing a complaint is relatively easy in the UAE with an online comprehensive system by Ministry of Health and Prevention (MOHAP) for most Emirates and specific channels for Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The MOHAP will take it on the trajectory mentioned above. The General procedure for every other Emirate is as follows:

  • Visit the MOHAP Medical Complaint Page
  • Click on “Go to the e-service”
  • Log in using your UAEPASS or register an account
  • Select “Create New Medical Complaint”
  • Fill the form with personal details, patient details, the Emirate you’re in and other necessary details asked and save the form.
  • Attach the supporting documents and submit the complaint.

Dubai, however, has two trajectories for a complaint, one of which is an online form mode via mc.dha.gov.ae – the official DHA website, and the other one is mailing your complaint to the id cg@dha.gov.ae. The Abu Dhabi Department of Health (DOH) deals with medical complaints either via call or through online portal where you could submit your complaints. You might require information on the medical condition, proof of your claim and an Emirates ID to file such a complaint.