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Medical negligence system must change

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To the Editor: A recent medical negligence decision of the Queensland Court of Appeal in a case involving damages of $6.7 million1 further supports the suggestion that Australia should follow the example of six other nations and switch to a no-fault medical indemnity/insurance system.2 The case concerned a 49-year-old woman who became severely disabled (blind and deaf) as the result of cryptococcal meningitis. Key clinical questions that the Court of Appeal judges needed to decide included the subtleties of distinguishing neck stiffness suggestive of meningitis from that due to cervical spondylosis; recognition by a general practitioner of other symptoms suggesting the gradual onset of this rare type of meningitis; and the timeliness of their referring the patient to a specialist. This case illustrates the weaknesses of the fault-based medical negligence system, which focuses on assigning blame rather than promptly assisting the catastrophically injured. This approach usually involves inordinate delays, the lottery of the court process, and the waste of valuable resources.

The patient has already waited an unacceptable 7 years for a final decision. The woman’s illness occurred in 2008, but the first court decision (which went against her) was made in 2014, and the appeal decision was delivered in February 2015 (a decision that may be appealed further).…