How Does Australia Measure Up With Medical Negligence?

PUBLISHED 16 Nov 2016

While the last century has seen astonishing advances across every branch of medicine, the uncomfortable truth is that even a routine trip to the hospital can be a dangerous business. In this piece, we’ll put the risks in context, look at efforts to combat the problem in Australia, and step through what to do if you or a loved one is affected.

The Medical Negligence Crisis in Australia and Beyond

Regardless of where you look in the world, medical error emerges as a huge and shockingly under-reported public health crisis. To start with the United States, the Institute of Medicine estimated in 1999 that between 44,000 to 98,000 deaths a year were attributable to medical error. A more recent (somewhat disputed) estimate in the British Medical Journal put the total at an astonishing 251,454 per year.

As can be seen from the range of figures quoted for the United States, there is more than a little uncertainty around exact numbers in this regard, and the situation in Australia is no different. Estimates put the number of deaths through medical error at around 18,000 per year, with a further 50,000 people suffering permanent injury per year due to medical negligence. It’s worth noting that these figures themselves have attracted criticism from those in the medical profession.

There has been a concerted effort over the last decade to put patients first, however. The establishment of the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care in 2006 was an important step in the right direction, and their subsequent formalising of national safety standards in 2011 went a long way to driving adoption of best practices across the country. Nevertheless, our own personal experience at Gerard Malouf shows that we’re still dealing with an alarming number of cases per year.

What To Do If You’ve Been Affected by Medical Error

Medical negligence is a particularly complex area of law and it’s imperative that you seek professional advice as soon as possible if you or a loved one have been adversely affected. In order to prove a case, it has to be established that a doctor acted negligently and that the negligence directly caused an eventual injury.

The chain of events, decisions, and responsibilities that has to be examined in depth to establish negligence is a necessarily complex one in the vast majority of medical negligence cases. The average person is simply not in a position to pursue their own claim, particularly in the often traumatic aftermath of a medical error.

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