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Our View: Law on patients' rights has a long way to go.

THE MOST frequent complaint made by patients against state hospitals is the long waiting time for treatment. With the increase in demand for state healthcare, patients often have to wait for as long as a year for specialised tests, in which time their condition could deteriorate sharply. For the poorest patients, who do not have the option of going to private hospitals for tests, the long waiting time, could prove fatal.

But what should be done? Health ministry officials claim that state hospitals do not have the equipment or the staff to provide tests and treatment promptly. It was ironic that all this was revealed at a news conference to mark European Patients' Rights Day on Wednesday. What patients' rights could we talk about when a patient's life may be put at risk because he or she may have to wait for one year for a specialised test?

Yet since 2005 Cyprus has a law for the protection of patients' rights. At the time a charter with the patient's rights was made available and committees for the investigation of patients' complaints were set up for every hospital. These committees had the authority to recommend remedial action to the health minister once they judged a complaint to have been justified. At every hospital an officer for patients' rights was appointed to make sure the law was being enforced.

But as we have found out time and again good intentions are never enough. How can you have a law safeguarding patients' rights when state hospitals do not have the resources to guarantee the right to prompt treatment? The first 'right' included in the law is "health care, based on needs and within reasonable time". When the hospitals cannot guarantee this, what is the point of the law?

According to a former officer of patients' rights at Larnaca hospital, another problem with the law is that patients were not aware of their rights, a point also conceded by the health ministry permanent secretary at Wednesday's news conference. He said the ministry would use television spots to inform people about their rights and encourage patients to claim their rights at private hospitals and clinics as well.

People must be informed of their rights and be encouraged to claim them at hospitals, but should not doctors, nurse and administration staff also be educated about their obligations towards patients? A patients' support group complained this week that there were doctors who never bothered explaining treatment decisions to patients. The former officer of patients' rights revealed that when legitimate complaints were taken to senior health ministry officials they were ignored.

In short, the law on patients' rights has a long way to go before it practically safeguards and promotes patients' rights.

Copyright Cyprus Mail 2012

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Publication:Cyprus Mail (Cyprus)
Date:Apr 21, 2012
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