Editorial : Arabnews - The Kingdom has many excellent hospitals and clinics where doctors and surgeons, nurses and support staff offer outstanding treatment.
Unfortunately, this is not the whole story. Among these first-rate institutions are providers of health services who employ fakes and charlatans with forged qualifications.
Now consider: This week it was revealed that the Shariah medical committees at the Ministry of Health had dealt with 1,758 medical malpractice cases in 2010, more than half of which they had found proven.
This is an absolutely staggering statistic. If half of all such complaints against medical professionals were found to be correct in the United States or Germany or Japan, it would be regarded as an outrageous scandal. The public outcry would be deafening. As it is, everyone who learned of these disturbing new Ministry of Health findings will, quite rightly, be feeling extremely uneasy.
The problem is that until now, so little information has been made public about the malpractice cases with which the authorities have dealt. There is no easy way to discover the details of the medical practitioners nor of the medical institutions involved.
Medical malpractices the world over normally take one or two forms. Either a surgeon or doctor has made a genuine mistake or a medical procedure has been botched as a result of sheer incompetence. Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia is one of those countries where there is a third reason for health disasters — the health care professionals are operating with forged qualifications. However good their superficial skills and their consulting-room manner, they actually do not know what they are doing.
Thus, last year the Health Ministry admitted that, over an unrevealed number of years, no less than 15,000 foreigners had been discovered to be working on phony or invalid medical qualifications or were simply deemed incompetent. These individuals were operating within every health area, including nursing and pharmacy. Incredibly, 150 bogus dentists and opticians were unmasked and no less than 75 fake doctors!
Now it should, of course, be borne in mind that these were only the cheats who were discovered. Disturbingly, the reality has to be that many more so-called health professionals have so far escaped being found out.
The primary responsibility for this appalling state of affairs has to rest with those medical institutions that hired these impostors. No professional organization, let alone one concerned with health care, should fail to do a thorough check on the credentials of the staff that they want to hire. The often life-saving work that these people are being asked to undertake is simply too important for institutions to accept a mere piece of paper as proof positive that a doctor or a nurse is who he or she says he/she is. References simply have to be taken up in depth and the professional registers in a candidate's home country must be checked carefully. The rule should be that if there is the slightest doubt about the bona fides of a health care professional, that person does not get the job.
The duty of care does not, however, stop there. The Health Ministry has the final responsibility for ensuring that every hospital and clinic in the Kingdom is applying the proper interviews, tests and inquiries to make certain that they are employing competent and highly-qualified health professionals. Unfortunately, the ministry's own admitted record demonstrates that it has been falling down significantly in this crucial responsibility.
Now is the time for both the ministry and medical institutions to get tough. Every single medical employee needs to have his or her credentials rechecked and confirmed. No less important, the results of these thorough reviews must be published widely. Without transparency and without the ability of any patient to easily check the credentials of the medical professional who is treating them, any certification system is going to be insufficient.
What is so extraordinary about this shocking tale is that the Kingdom's medical institutions have not themselves seen fit to crack down hard on the frauds in their midst. The result of this failure is that the reputation of the great majority of skilled and highly qualified medical professionals within the Kingdom is being tarnished. This is a tragedy, both for them and for their trusting patients.