Arab Health 2023 – Too Tough to Talk About or A Stitch in Time Saves Nine?- Should Medico Legal Issues be on the Agenda?

At the end of this month, the medical world will descend upon our fair city for the 2023 edition of Arab Health. Impressive statistics underscore the importance of this event and announces in the post-Covid Era that the Big Event is back- bolder and bigger than before. 3,000 Exhibitors from 70 Countries. Over 50,000 live visitors. 9 Medical Conferences. 300 plus speakers. 150 sessions.

It remains to be seen how many billions of dirhams worth of deals will be done in the four days of Arab Health at the Exhibition Stands and surrounding cafes, hotels, and restaurants. Moreover, thousands of physicians and medical professionals will also be attending at least one of the medical conferences to fulfil the Continuing Medical Education requirements set by their respective Regulators. Perhaps unsurprisingly to most industry insiders none of the conferences touch upon medico- legal issues or medical malpractice issues and- perhaps more importantly- what strategies are available to be deployed to help minimise medical malpractice cases or the appropriate management thereof.

I did see one relevant 30- minute event in the Transformation Talks series entitled “The second victim- technology can help protect clinicians from medication errors”. I loved the title of this talk and have already booked my attendance because, in my humble opinion, it represents a more balanced view of medical malpractice cases.  Those which involve very human tragedies impacting upon patients, patient’s families and physicians and their families alike albeit that ‘the first victim’ – implicit in the talk’s title, in relative importance must always be, and seen to be, the patient.

Every now and again I have had the honour to present at Arab Health on medico legal issues. Twice in 15 years. I could be wrong, but to my knowledge these two sessions were the only sessions that Arab Health past editions have explicitly focussed on medico- legal and medical malpractice issues. In the UK for example, these topics regularly appear in medical industry conferences and physicians can obtain Continuing Medical Education points for their participation. Clearly, the medical services sector in the UK perceive value in physician education in these topics and the question then arises why Arab Health and the UAE medical services sector don’t seem to share that perception.

The scale of medical malpractice and the related costs in England are startling. This set of statistics are not quite as impressive as the set quoted above but are I suggest of equal if not greater significance in context. According to the figures published in July 2022 in the NHS Resolution Annual Report and Accounts (HC436) for the year 1 April 2021-31 March 2022, the cost of harm estimated for clinical negligence cases was GBP 13.3 billion. The volume of clinical claims rose from 13,351 to 15,078 with a staggering GBP 2.459 billion being paid out to patients and their families in the cases settled- which accounts for over 2% of the NHS budget. These figures do not consider the volume of claims that were not asserted or litigated by patients- for whatever reason- which according to some estimates are substantial. Medical malpractice litigation in England is a long drawn-out and expensive process and around 77% of cases dealt with by NHS Resolution settle.

The scale of medical malpractice in the United States- according to a Johns Hopkins 2016 study- paints an even bleaker picture. Although hotly disputed the study asserts that the third biggest killer of American patients, behind heart disease and cancer, is medical malpractice; more patients are killed by medical malpractice than road accidents and gun crime combined; and patients undergoing a general anaesthetic have a one in five chance of being killed by medical negligence.

The scale of medical malpractice in the United Arab Emirates is simply unknown.  Regular statistics such as we see in England and United States are not publicly available. As a medical malpractice defence lawyer practising in UAE for 25 years all I can add is that there is a not insignificant volume of medical malpractice cases before the Courts. Recent changes to the structure of how medical malpractice cases are dealt with requiring cases to be referred to Medical Liability Committees convened by each medical authority and a single appellate body, the Supreme or Higher Committee of Medical Liability, hearing all appeals from all the relevant Medical Liability Committees would tend to indicate that claim statistics may be ripe for publication. These claim statistics could be an invaluable tool for the local medical services sector to try to make use of the data as a learning experience with the aim of reducing medical malpractice events.

From my perspective, the elephant in the room at Arab Health 2023 is the issue of medical malpractice and the almost complete absence of medico- legal education for physicians at best or- at least- some earnest discussion and debate of the topic. The sector is mature enough I suggest to tackle the issue of medical malpractice head-on calmly and constructively. As we see from the Transformation Talk with the title “The second victim- technology can help protect clinicians from medication errors” it can be done in a forthright and balanced way.

Maybe 2024 Arab Health will see a well- attended and well-conceived conference on medico-legal topics? Let’s see.

The author of this publication is Stephen Ballantine. Stephen is head of the firm’s Medical Negligence Practice, and has over two-decades of experience being regarded by many as the leading practitioner in the jurisdiction. If you have any queries regarding the above, or medical malpractice issues more broadly, please speak to Stephen on