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Medical Law in South Africa

Know Your Patient Rights When Hospitalised in South Africa

Medical law in South Africa is complex, which is why it is recommended that you seek legal guidance if you believe that you have been a victim of medical negligence or malpractice.

It is essential to understand your patient rights, such as the right to:

  • Have your right to dignity respected.
  • Be informed by the healthcare provider about the risks of a particular course of treatment.
  • Be informed by the healthcare provider about alternative treatments available.
  • Have your right to privacy respected and thus the right to doctor-patient confidentiality.
  • To receive medical care according to a reasonable standard.
  • Seek a second opinion.
  • To refuse or to accept a treatment.

You have several other rights. The medical law in South Africa also protects your rights as a patient when you are admitted to hospital.

Mistakes are not uncommon in hospitals. Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Surgical instruments left in the patient after surgery.
  • Incorrect procedures during surgery leading to complications or, worst case scenario, the death of a patient.
  • Incorrect administration and monitoring of anaesthesia, leaving a patient paralysed or blind.
  • Incorrect medicine administration leading to severe injury.
  • Failure to turn the patient regularly leading to infected bedsores.
  • Surgical removal of the wrong body part.
  • Failure to follow up after surgery, leading to premature discharging of the patient with the patient’s condition worsening as the result of lack of medical care.
  • Misdiagnosis of a condition such as breast cancer and the removal of the patient’s breasts as the result of the misdiagnosis.
  • Failure to correctly monitor the unborn baby during birthing leading to oxygen deprivation and, as a result, brain damage of the child.
  • Mix up of tubing, leading to incorrect administration of medicine.
  • Failure to keep the hospital environment sterile, consequently preventing infections leading to severe infections that cause the death of infants.
  • Failure to wash hands and follow proper hygiene protocol when working with patients, consequently spreading of infections and diseases.
  • Incorrect insertion and removal of chest tube, leaving air bubbles in the patient’s blood.
  • Not informing the patient about all the known risks associated with the course of treatment, leading to the patient giving consent for a high-risk procedure that causes the patient to suffer long-term or permanent injury, such as loss of speech, hearing, sight or ability to walk.

How to Minimise the Risk of Becoming a Victim of Malpractice or Negligence in South Africa

If you don’t understand the terminology used by the medical professional, ask them to explain it in a way you can understand. If you are unsure about a diagnosis, seek a second opinion. Ask questions to double check whether the dosages prescribed are correct and that the healthcare workers administer the correct dosages.

With studies showing that over two million people are negatively affected by infections they acquire while hospitalised annually, you have the right to ask that the healthcare workers follow correct hygiene and infection protocol. If a healthcare worker just treated another patient infected with a transmittable disease, you have the right to ask them to wash their hands before working with you.

Ask about every medication administered while you are in hospital. Ask what it is, why it is administered, what the correct dosage is, and how often you should receive it. By doing so, you also keep record of the procedures and you stay informed.

If you suspect that you have been a victim of medical negligence, seek immediate legal counsel from an attorney specialising in medical law in South Africa.


Information in this article is not intended as legal advice and is only for informational purposes. Please seek legal guidance from Adele van der Walt before relying on this information to make any legal decisions.

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