Professor Cyril Karabus

Cape Town - An international private hospital group is lobbying authorities in Dubai to change medical malpractice laws there so that instead of complaints automatically being viewed as criminal, they could be seen as civil.

This comes in the wake of the detention of city doctor Cyril Karabus who has been held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for more than six months on criminal charges.

On Monday in an e-mail response to the Cape Times, Mediclinic Middle East’s chief executive, David Hadley, confirmed the group was trying to change medical malpractice laws in Dubai.

“We have lobbied the regulatory authorities in Dubai - the Dubai Health Authority and Dubai Healthcare City - regarding the law whereby people can criminalise the medical complaint process by laying a charge directly with the police when medical malpractice or negligence is suspected.

“We would like to see the law change so that patients or their families must lodge their complaints with the relevant health regulating authority first, and that it should be up to the regulating authority to determine if it is a criminal or civil case,” he said.

At the weekend, Karabus’s local attorney, Michael Bagraim, said Karabus was “very excited” about the proposed changes to the Dubai medical laws.

He said since Karabus’s case had been in the spotlight, a number of medical practitioners thinking of working in the UAE had contacted him about their worries regarding the medical laws there.

Bagraim said a number of them had decided not to work in the UAE.

However, in his response, Hadley said the hospital had not noticed an impact from Karabus’s case.

“Referring specifically to Mediclinic Middle East, we have not up till now seen that the incident regarding Prof Karabus has deterred doctors and nurses from coming to Dubai,” he said.

Mediclinic Middle East employed some 13 doctors and 55 nurses from SA out of a total of roughly 2 000 employees.

“None of our current SA doctors or nurses have indicated to us that they wish to leave the UAE for reasons relating to Prof Karabus or any other,” Hadley said.

Mediclinic Middle East said that records since 2006 showed that there were about 30 cases of alleged negligence out of more than 3 million patients.

“Only five of these cases were referred to the police and none ended in the arrest of the medical personnel involved,” Hadley said.

Karabus, 77, a retired paediatric oncologist, has been in the UAE since August.

He was arrested while in transit through Dubai and released on bail in October.

He had been tried in absentia and convicted of manslaughter and falsifying documents after the death of a three-year-old in 2002 at the Sheikh Khalifa Medical Centre, Abu Dhabi, where he had been working as a locum.

Karabus was sentenced to three years in jail in absentia.

Earlier this month South Africa sent a démarche - a strong protest - to the UAE government calling for the case against Karabus to be expedited.

Cape Times