Multidisciplinary specialist treatment teams and abandonment of patients – who is responsible for what?
The legal and ethical position of treating specialists whose contractual relationship with a patient has been prematurely terminated by the patient or themselves is discussed. The validity of a mandated parent terminating the treatment of a mentally and legally competent patient by a surgeon member of a specialist team is discussed. After a contractual relationship between a treating specialist and a patient has been prematurely terminated, the specialist concerned still owes a duty of care towards the patient under the law of delict - until a new specialist in the field has been properly briefed by the previous treating specialist to take over the treatment of the patient. Such previous treating specialists may not rely on other specialists in the multidisciplinary treatment team, who are not specialists in the field, to take over the treatment of the patient, or to brief the new specialist on the patient’s condition. In such circumstances, the original treating specialist may be held liable for abandoning their patient. As a general rule, members of a multidisciplinary team may not treat patients outside their speciality – except in emergency situations. In the latter case, however, they cannot rely on emergency as a partial defence, when they themselves have created the emergency. Such members of the team may be cited as joint wrongdoers, if without good cause their conduct contributes to the harm caused by the original treating specialist, after the latter has left the team and abandoned their patient by not ensuring that another specialist in their field had been briefed to take over the patient.
D J McQuoid-Mason, University of KwaZulu-Natal
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Date published: 2020-12-15
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