Medical Ombudsman’s Institute in Armenia

Currently medical errors in Armenia are considered a crime and judged according to criminal law.  Without the independent and impartial investigation of an ombudsmen the rights of both patient and doctor are not protected, making it harder to achieve transparency, accountability or clarity in healthcare provision.  Determined to change this, Meri Katvalyan (JST, 2018) has initiated a Medical Ombudsman’ Institute to allow medical errors to be judged according to medical law.

At the time of her JST Fellowship in 2018, Meri was a Senior Specialist at the Ministry of Health of Armenia and her Action Plan was to create a Medical Ombudsman’s Institute. She wanted to see an alternative system of regulation of medical errors introduced in order to distinguish medical errors from medical negligence and transfer the regulation of medical errors from the field of criminal law to medical law. Meri and her colleagues had started to develop a draft concept for a ‘Medical Mediator’ before Meri came to the UK for her Fellowship Programme. According to Meri, “The model for the Institute of Medical Ombudsman which I developed based only on my theoretical knowledge was completely different to the model our Ministry is now looking at following my recommendations based on the knowledge and experience I gained during the John Smith Trust Fellowship Programme”.

In the UK, Meri’s most influential action plan meetings were with Robert Beherns CBE, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, and Rosemary Agnew, Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.  She also spent valuable full days with the General Medical Council and the British Medical Association where she met top officials, discussed the structure of the organisations, took part in a session of a Medical Tribunal, all helping her to develop a full picture of the system. Following her experience with the General Medical Council Meri also started to work on the new list of medical specialties as the starting block for changes in the procedure of licensing.

Despite some significant hurdles, Meri has made has already started to see the impact of her work. Upon her return from the UK it became clear to Meri that establishing a Medical Ombudsman was not an immediate priority for the government. Unphased by this, Meri registered the Institute as an NGO in December 2019.  Due to the current pandemic the NGO was formally registered in June 2020. Nevertheless, through her gentle advocacy work, Meri has changed the way many of her colleagues regard medical errors and how they should be dealt with. The NGO has also developed a list of medical specialities as the starting point for changes in the law on licencing.

The JST’s core programme of workshops and discussions also made its mark on Meri’s professional development. After JST’s media sessions, Meri started to consider how the media played a role in her professional area and, upon her return to Armenia, she organized training for journalists working on healthcare entitled: ‘Healthy Healthcare Media’ during which ethical and regulative issues were discussed.

Meri recently changed jobs and is now Project Officer for the Human Rights Protection in Biomedicine Project at the Council of Europe in Armenia but she continues to work for the protection of human rights in the healthcare sphere and maintains her position as CEO of the NGO Medical Ombudsman. Meri values the impact that the JST Fellowship had on her professionally and says ‘’the experience in the UK, recommendations from the people who are considered the best in their field shaped a new person with new values and new vision and are the determining factors for my new job’’.

September 2020