Tuesday saw drama at the panel of public enquiry set up by the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) to probe the death of Peju Ugboma, the Lagos chef who died in the aftermath of a fibroid surgery at Premier Specialist Hospital in Victoria Island, Lagos.
Ijoma Ugboma, Peju’s husband who had accused the hospital of negligence resulting in her death, told the panel led by Babatunde Irukera, the CEO of FCCPC, that Premier Hospital denied the deceased adequate post-surgery care.
Doctors at the hospital who had been summoned to shed light on Peju’s time in their care, however, refused to show up. Abimbola Akeredolu (SAN), Premier Hospital’s counsel who spoke on the absentee’s behalf, told the panel that they were present at the hearing earlier but left after the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) threatened to withdraw their licences if they stayed.
FIJ gathered that one of MDCN’s grievances against the panel bothers on the ‘confidentiality rule’ that binds all medical practitioners to hold patient’s information in confidence. The principle, which is foundational to the practice of medicine, is targeted at upholding the right of individuals to privacy.
Although Peju is dead, the grip of the confidentiality rule extends beyond the borderline of patients’ life and death as can be seen in the oath taken by Nigerian medics at induction. “I will respect the secrets which are confided in me, even after the patient has died,” a prospective medical and dental practitioner says, and the MDCN, which determines who has broken the rule, reserves the right to take the disciplinary action it deems fit.
Another grouch is about which party has the right to investigate a possible medical breach between the FCCPC and the more medicine-related MDCN?
Established under the Medical and Dental Practitioners Act Cap 221 Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1990, the MDCN is saddled with the regulation of medicine practice in the country.
Its duties include investigation and trial of erring medical professionals and then the imposition of penalties for a proven infringement.
On the other hand, the FCCPC is to ensure the access of Nigerian citizens to safe products and protect the right of consumers. The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act (FCCPA) 2018 which established the commission, however, gives it “precedence over and above” any other relevant government agency in matters of competition and consumer protection.
Speaking with FIJ on Thursday, Sanmi Abiodun, a Nigerian lawyer, said the FCCPC has the power to treat a case of medical negligence based on the scope and objectives of the act that established it.
“The powers of the FCCPC appear to be very broad. They even have their own tribunal,” Abiodun said. “You could call it duplication of powers with a few other agencies, but they have authorization for the Medical Contour and Peju Ugboma cases.”
Sanmi added that the power of the MDCN to investigate individual medical practitioner does not stop other agencies from addressing similar cases.
His words: “Think about it this way. If an employee steals at work, the employer can fire him, but the offence of stealing remains a crime, so the police can still work on the case.”
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