A new regulation offering patients greater protection in the event of medical blunders has been formally announced. Xinhua yesterday released details of the regulation, which will be implemented in September. It supersedes a 1987 circular which has been widely criticised for being outdated, inadequate and ambiguous. Under the new regulation, the semi-official Chinese Medical Council - a professional body - will be responsible for reviewing all medical blunders instead of the Ministry of Health. According to Huang Songyou, a Supreme People's Court judge who helped draft the new regulation, it will be easier for victims of medical blunders to sue the Government. Since hospitals are run by the Ministry of Health, it was seen as a conflict of interest for the ministry to also be in charge of investigations. Victims of medical blunders have to prove that the hospital is at fault to demand compensation. But the new regulation is not retrospective, meaning victims cannot use it to take legal action on past cases. The regulation stipulates that all patients have the right to have access to their medical records. In the past, doctors have been reluctant to release the information, making it difficult for patients to take legal action. The regulation introduces a four-tier system to classify medical blunders as well as giving a clear-cut definition of what constitutes a blunder. Currently, medical practitioners can be named as parties in a legal action. But under the new rule, the organisations employing the doctors or surgeons will also be liable. The medical council will only rule in the cases of registered doctors - unregistered physicians will not come under its jurisdiction. Such cases will have to go directly to court for a ruling. Critics have long called for a revision of the circular, arguing that new rules were urgently needed to overhaul the mainland's medical system. According to statistics provided by the Chinese Consumers Association, in 1999 the association received 17,246 cases related to medical blunders, up 29.1 per cent on 1998. Figures for 2000 and last year were not available.