Doctors Syndicate critical of medical service at prisons
Prison - AFP

CAIRO: Amid mounting warnings of medical negligence at prisons and detention centers in Egypt, the Doctors Syndicate has taken a firm stance against any violations committed by assigned doctors at prisons, according to interviews conducted by The Cairo Post.

The Doctors Syndicate announced recently it has been receiving complaints by citizens, and it called upon them to continue sending the syndicate any reports concerning incidents of professional mistakes or assaults committed by doctors inside the nation’s jails.

The syndicate does not have an executive role, and only applies disciplinary punishments, Ahmed Hussein, a syndicate member, told The Cairo Post Friday.

“There is an ethics committee at the syndicate that investigates complaints and incidents regarding doctors’ negligence in treating prisoners, and the punishment might reach suspension or prosecution referral,” he said.

Inside prisons, the Doctors Syndicate is only concerned with monitoring the medical service and the doctors, said syndicate member Amr el-Shora. However, he mentioned that the syndicate’s access to prisons is banned without permission from the attorney general.

“The National Council for Human Rights is the only body that is authorized to visit prisons, despite an agreement signed by Egypt to allow the monitoring of detention locations. The agreement has not been activated so far in the country,” added Shora to The Cairo Post Friday.

‘Loyalty’ issue might cause problems

There are two types of doctors working in prisons, “either they are police doctors or assigned by the Ministry of Health to serve at prisons hospital,” Shora said. He noted that this leads to what he referred to as the “dual loyalty” of doctors, but that “the doctors’ first loyalty should be to the patient.”

Shora further added that the syndicate does not know the members who are serving at prisons because “they are not registered in a database at the syndicate.”

Both Shora and Hussein expressed their concerns that syndicate decisions regarding violating doctors might not enter an action phase in the future. “If a doctor was suspended or had his membership frozen, the authority he is serving under might not execute the decision,” continued Hussein.

Slow routine guards prison procedures

A recent famous case of a detainee suffering deteriorating health conditions is that of imprisoned political activist Ahmed Doma, who was reported last week to be in “grave danger if not transferred to a hospital.”

Consequently, medical officials at the Doctors Syndicate responded in a statement calling on authorities to take “quick action and bypass normal procedures or there would be a grave threat to the patient’s (Doma) life.”

“There is slowness and obstinacy in transferring prisoners who need to go to hospitals,” said Shora.

Despite a new list of regulations added to prison laws stipulating that the final say on whether a prisoner can be treated at a private hospital goes to the prison’s doctors, Shora said that “if the prison’s doctor said that a prisoner needs to be transferred to a hospital, his opinion is only a recommendation and not a decision. Only the prison authority decides on this matter.”

Furthermore, Shora noted that the syndicate sometimes receives complaints of families being banned from sending some medicines to their imprisoned relatives, or prisoners even being prevented from medical service. “This is prohibited by law,” he said.

Hussein said weak medical preparation at prisons is one of the reasons behind the poor health conditions of some prisoners. However, he noted that the syndicate has repeatedly offered to help and cooperate with prison authorities, “but we received no response.”

“If the prison lacks the needed medical care, the authority of the prison should refer the prisoner to an external hospital,” Mohamed Zarea, the head of the Arab Penal Reform Organization, told The Cairo Post last week. He added that the provision of medical care at prisons is a “duty stipulated in the Constitution.”

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