Costly error: Tales of patients killed, disabled by health workers’ negligence

By Angela Onwuzoo

There has been increasing outcry over negligence on the part of some medical practitioners in the country that had led to the death of patients. In this report, victims narrate how they are left with permanent disabilities after escaping death by a whisker from healthcare providers that failed to prioritise patients’ safety as advocated by the World Health Organisation, ANGELA ONWUZOO writes.

Mrs. Mercy Shaapare was not born with a hearing impairment or a speech defect. In fact, at birth, she had very good vital signs and as a toddler, played heartily with other children.

But an avoidable tragedy struck when she was 10 years old when she fell ill and was taken to hospital for treatment.

Shaapare told PUNCH Healthwise that she was taken to a private hospital by her parents in Benue State for treatment without any form of deformity but that the visit altered the course of her life forever due to a doctor’s professional negligence.

The mother of three, who recalled that the hospital visit was over complaints of headaches and stomach pain, said an injection administered by a doctor left her with permanent hearing loss and speech impairment.

Shaapare, who spoke with our correspondent through her 18-year-old daughter, Jennifer, who had become a sign language interpreter out of necessity, said life has not been the same after the ugly incident.

Sharing her experience with PUNCH Healthwise, the Benue State indigene, who lost her husband in 2016, said, “I can still remember all that led to my hearing loss and speech impairment when I was 10 years old. It happened around 1991.

“I had stomach pain and headache.  After my mother gave me paracetamol for two days and the pain persisted, my father suggested we visit the hospital to see a doctor. I was the firstborn in a family of five.

 “So, my parents took me to a private hospital in the community. The doctor asked my parents what the problem was and they explained that I was complaining about stomach pain and headache.

 “The male doctor examined me and said that I would be fine. He told my parents that he would treat me even though he did carry out any tests.

“The doctor gave my mother some drugs that would last me for five days and said that I would take an injection before leaving the hospital.

Deafness after injection

“But as soon as the doctor injected me on my right buttocks, I fainted. By the time I regained consciousness minutes later, I could not hear anymore. My parents were shouting my name but I could not hear them.

“The doctor who gave me the injection also called my name several times but I couldn’t hear him.  Even when I tried to speak, I found out that my parents were struggling to hear me because I was just mumbling words.

“Thereafter, I noticed that my parents held the doctor on his lab coat and told him to undo what he had done.  People gathered at the hospital, including passersby.

“Sensing more danger, the doctor assured my parents that I would be fine and that the hearing loss would not last beyond 48 hours.

“This reassurance made my parents to calm down and they took me home. But 48 hours later, the hearing loss continued.  Four days later, my parents took me back to the doctor and he referred us to Jos University Teaching Hospital.

“Unfortunately, when we got there, the ear, nose, and throat specialist that we saw said the damage was irreversible.  That was how I became permanently deaf. It also affected my speech.”

Continuing, she said, “Each time I remember that my disability was caused by a doctor, tears would roll down my cheeks. I keep blaming my parents for taking me to the hospital.”

On whether her parents pressed charges against the doctor,  Shaapare said her parents were farmers and not aware that the doctor could be sued.

The fruit seller revealed that her parents did not give up on her as they took her to different places and spiritual homes for healing to no avail.

Despite all her parent’s efforts, Shaapare never regained her ability to hear or speak to this day.

With a sad look, Shaapare lamented that communication had become the greatest challenge she faces daily, as the responsibility of feeding the family now rests on the shoulders of her young children after the demise of her husband.

Medical errors

Many Nigerians are worried that cases of professional carelessness or negligence are rampant in the country.

Tagged medical error, experts said it is defined as inappropriate conduct due to negligence, recklessness, or malpractice that causes harm to a patient by medical personnel.

Alarmingly, some experts estimate that up to 250,000 persons die annually in Nigeria due to medical errors.

The World Health Organisation says one in every 10 patients is harmed in health care.

Furthermore, it says that “patient harm potentially reduces global economic growth by 0.7 per cent,” while the indirect cost amounts to trillions of dollars yearly.

Death of neonate

Mrs. Janet Denis-Eragbor will not forget September 2020 in a hurry, as she alleged that the negligence of a nurse on night duty snuffed the life out of her three-week-old daughter who was on oxygen at the paediatric ward of a Lagos State-owned health facility.

Sharing her pain with PUNCH Healthwise, Denis-Eragbor, said, “I have been using the general hospital for delivery. My husband is a government worker and so, we are registered with the National Health Insurance Authority.

 “I gave birth to my baby at the end of August 2020, and three weeks later, I noticed that she was losing weight drastically and was also not pooping. So I took her to one of our brothers who is a paediatrician and he advised me to quickly take her to the hospital where I gave birth, since it was a big general hospital.

“She was my third child and I also gave birth to her older siblings there. At the hospital, they brought out her folder and commenced treatment on her.

“When she was weighed, they noticed that her weight had dropped from 3.4kg at birth to 2.3kg.  So, she was admitted and placed on oxygen at the paediatric emergency unit because the children’s ward was full.”

According to her, the doctors who admitted her baby that morning said by the next day, there could be a space in the children’s ward for them to move her in.

Denis-Eragbor, who is in her late 30s, acknowledged that nurses on the morning and afternoon duty when her daughter was admitted and who placed her on oxygen did their work professionally, as they consistently monitored her to ensure she was taking in the oxygen and responding well.

The woman said that the reverse was the case when the nurse on night duty resumed, adding that her negligence led to her daughter’s premature death.

“Now, at night I noticed that the nurse on duty was not monitoring my daughter like her colleagues who were on afternoon duty did before handing over to her.

 Nurse sleeping on duty

“She only came once, around 11 p.m. to check on my daughter and told me she was going to sleep, and that if I had any complaints I should come and call her.  So, around 12:15 a.m., I noticed that the oxygen had finished, and I quickly went to call on her.

“But it took her more than 30 minutes to come out and check on my daughter.  By the time she came, I noticed that my baby was no longer moving.  When I asked what the problem was, she said she would go and get oxygen.

“It took her another 30 minutes to come back with the oxygen and by the time it was fixed, my daughter was no longer responding.

“The nurse then went to call the doctor. The doctor came, checked on her and confirmed my daughter was dead. The doctor asked me what happened.  By the time I explained to him what happened, he was angry at the nurse and wrote all that happened in the folder.”

 Missing folder after death

The mother of three also told PUNCH Healthwise that her daughter’s folder went missing that same night.

“In the morning, when my husband came and I explained what happened to him he was angry and demanded an explanation as to the cause of her death.

“When NHIA then NHIS, requested for her folder, it was nowhere to be found.  You won’t believe that the folder went missing after the death of my daughter that night.

“It took a year plus before it was found because I was given a temporary folder after the incident by the hospital, pending when it would be found.  That was how the nurse, due to her negligence, killed my daughter and went away with murder”, she alleged.

Missing intestine

 Adebola Akin-Bright, the 12-year-old boy whose intestines went missing in the process of surgery, recently passed away.

He died after two surgeries were performed on him in a private hospital and later, a corrective surgery at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja where he eventually gave up the ghost.

Akin-Bright’s ordeal became public knowledge after Deborah Abiodun, his mother, took to social media to share the boy’s predicament.

She explained that her son had undergone surgery after being diagnosed with a ruptured appendix at a private hospital in the Ile Epo area of Lagos.

The woman said after the surgery, her son suffered complications that resulted in intestinal obstruction, adding that his intestine started leaking seven days after a second operation at the same facility.

Shortly afterwards, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, governor of Lagos, visited Akin-Bright at LASUTH, where he assured the family that “everything will be done” to make him get better.

 The Lagos assembly also constituted an ad hoc committee to investigate the issue.

Disturbing trend of medical error

The Archives of Medicine and Health Sciences in a 2017 report found a worrying increase in medical errors/negligence in Nigeria.

Its survey showed a prevalence of negligence of 42.8 per cent per 145 medical practitioners in the country.

Three errors – medication prescription, radio-laboratory investigation ordering, and physician diagnoses – were found to be most common in the order of 95.2 per cent, 83.9 per cent, and 69.4 per cent respectively.

Permanent disability after injection

Another victim of medical negligence who is currently living with a disability, even though she was born with none in 1992 is Chekwube Ezeokaor.

The Anambra State indigene told our correspondent that she had no challenges with walking, running, or playing normally like her peers while growing up.

“I started walking at the age of 10 months,” she told our correspondent with a glint in her eyes.

According to her, she received all her childhood immunizations without any issues but at the age of two, she fell ill and was taken to a private hospital by her mother for treatment.

Unfortunately, the injection given to little Chekwube on her buttocks by a nurse caused irreversible injury to her nerves, affecting her movement and quality of life.

Sharing her experience with PUNCH HealthWise, Chekwube, a Higher National Diploma student of the Home and Rural Economics Department, Federal Polytechnic, Oko, Anambra State, said she walked with her two legs to the hospital with her mother but couldn’t lift any of them again after receiving an injection.

The dark-complexioned lady said the injection caused her ‘foot drop’, lamenting that life has never remained the same since the unfortunate incident, as walking has become a challenging task.

She recalled that going to primary and secondary school was quite challenging, as she could no longer walk long distances due to the excruciating pain she felt in her knees.

Foot drop

According to the United States National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, foot drop is the inability to raise the front part of the foot due to weakness or paralysis of the muscles that lift the foot.

The NINDS says as a result of that, individuals with foot drop scuff their toes on the ground or bend their knees to lift their foot higher than usual to avoid the scuffing, which causes what is called a ‘steppage gait’.

Experts say serious sciatic nerve injury or injection nerve palsy can result from improper injections into the buttocks, adding that it causes foot drop and that the most common scenario for nerve damage is improper needle placement.

 Amputation without x-ray

A gunshot survivor, Mr. Uwa Osagie, had a rather disturbing experience in the hand of his surgeon, which left him permanently disabled.

Osagie’s right leg was amputated in 2013 after his surgeon, Dr. Sunday Elusoji, sent him for amputation without a prior X-ray examination to determine the extent of his injury.

Osagie was attacked by armed robbers, during which he sustained gunshot wounds. He was subsequently admitted to Our Medical Centre (a.k.a Our Hospital) at No. 2, Jemila Road, Ikpoba Hill, Benin City, owned and operated by Dr. Elusoji.

According to the charge sheet issued by the Medical and Dental Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal, the incident happened between March 10 and 11, 2013.

Elusoji was said to have admitted Osagie to his privately owned hospital and administered in-hospital treatment to relieve Osagie of the pains he was experiencing.

As of the time of the incident, Elusoji primarily worked as a surgeon with the University of Benin Teaching Hospital, while he also ran his private facility.

Osagie, however, sued Elusoji before the Medical and Dental Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal, alleging medical negligence, malpractice, and gross misconduct after his right lower limb was amputated following the surgeon’s intervention.

Osagie also informed the panel how, on April 22, 2013, Dr. Elusoji tried to cover his tracks by issuing a medical report to his patient, using the letterhead of the UBTH, rather than his own private health facility’s letterhead.

The investigating panel that brought the matter to the MDPDT after investigating Osagie’s petition in April 2021, found the registered medical practitioner and consultant surgeon at the UBTH, culpable for “failing to do good to the patient,” which led to the amputation of his leg.

The Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, the body regulating medical practice in Nigeria, barred him for life from medical practice.

The panel noted that the patient was not given the necessary care, as the surgeon did not undertake an x-ray before recommending amputation of Osagie’s right leg.

Many other victims of medical negligence also spoke with PUNCH Healthwise about their experiences.

 Untrained health workers menace

A Senior Lecturer at the Department of Paediatrics, College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Dr. Beatrice Ezenwa, told PUNCH Healthwise that only trained and qualified nurses should be allowed to administer injections.

She accused untrained health workers and auxiliary nurses of being responsible for most medical errors recorded.

The Consultant Neonatologist and Paediatrician with the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba, said, “There are particular areas for giving an injection.

“If somebody follows the guidelines and protocol, they are not likely to cause any problems. It is those who do not know the rules that cause problems”, she said.

Patients have right to sue health workers

Victims of medical negligence can approach the state high court where the negligence occurred to claim damages, says a legal practitioner, Mr. Imran Abdulganeey.

The lawyer also said they could petition the MDCN.

Abdulganeey, who is the Founder of the Centre for Law and Civil Culture, said a qualified medical doctor owes his or her client a duty of care.

“So, it is his responsibility to discharge his job professionally. If he fails to do that and it backfires in one way or the other, then he will be held responsible for medical negligence, he said.

120 cases of medical negligence before MDCN

Meanwhile, in 2021, over 120 allegations of professional negligence were brought against medical practitioners in Nigeria and they were investigated by the MDCN, according to the council’s registrar, Dr. Tajudeen Sanusi.

The cases, it was further learnt, were different from the other 70 that had been concluded and sent to the Medical and Dental Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal, for prosecution.

The MDCN is saddled with the responsibility of regulating the practice of medicine, dentistry, and alternative medicine in the most efficient manner that safeguards the best healthcare delivery for Nigerians.

Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise, a former chairman, Nigerian Medical Association, Lagos State branch, Dr. Adetunji Adenekan, said the MDCN frowns at medical negligence and that no medical practitioner is spared if found guilty, irrespective of his status.

“The MDCN laws are there and they are our guide. The Medical and Dental Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal follows the laws to deliver judgment. The tribunal is our medical court. It has the status of a high court,” Adenekan added.

Safety of patients paramount – HEFAMAA

Executive Secretary, of Health Facility Monitoring and Accreditation Agency in Lagos State, Dr. Abiola Idowu, advised health workers to prioritise the safety of patients and minimise risk when providing care.

Emphasising the need for patients to be treated as partners in their care, Idowu said, “The problem that unsafe care causes even in terms of social cost is enormous. About $1m to $3m is lost annually because of unsafe care, when there is an adverse effect after giving care to patients.

“Annually, at least 2.6 million deaths are reported globally resulting from unsafe care but the cases are more in the low and middle-income countries. If we are going to segregate the data according to countries, the one for Nigeria is very high but the data is not adequately segregated.

“When a patient seeks care, at least one out of every 10 patients has an adverse effect and so the figures are very alarming. This calls for action.”

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