Negligence by doctors can lead to extreme patient trauma

The medical profession is a noble one and most of us look on doctors as nothing short of divine as they often cure our illness. On their part, doctors also have a duty towards their patients. In the words of the Apex Court, “The duty owed by a doctor towards his patient is to bring to his task a reasonable degree of skill and knowledge, and to exercise a reasonable degree of care. Thus, every doctor at the Government hospital or elsewhere, has a professional obligation to extend his services with due expertise for protecting life.”

The failure to exercise such due care amounts to negligence. It is indeed unfortunate that cases of medical negligence are on the rise.

A few months ago, Madumita, a teacher and mother of two, underwent a laparoscopy-assisted hysterectomy at a corporate hospital. The laparoscopy technique was recommended by a well-known gynaecologist in the city who assured her that it meant less tear and early recovery and that she could resume regular work after just a few days’ stay in hospital. As it happened, Madumita was discharged within four days of surgery. But, she had to be readmitted a couple of days later as she developed complications. Her condition worsened rapidly, causing immense anxiety to her family. Finally, three days later, and after various procedures, the diagnosis was “Left mid-uretric injury post laparoscopy-assisted hysterectomy”. This clearly proved negligence. Madumita was referred to a urologist and she had to have emergency surgery to repair her urethra. She suffered a lot of pain in the ensuing days.

Madumita had opted for the laparoscopic procedure in the first place to avoid the pain and complications of a surgery, but now she was left with big scars and hospitalisation for almost a month. To add to her woes, the hospital charged a hefty fee of Rs. 2,20,000 for the second hospitalisation.

When Madumita’s husband questioned this, the hospital management offered a Rs. 20,000 discount. The doctor stated it was a goodwill gesture. She dismissed their accusation of negligence stating that such complications and risks were common in any surgery.

Madumita approached us for assistance and upon our intervention, the hospital offered to refund the entire fee charged towards the second hospitalisation. However, they did not talk about damages. We advised Madumita to file her complaint in the Consumer Forum. But she decided to settle for the reimbursement and the matter was closed.

In a similar case that came up before the Kerala State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, the SC ordered the hospital and the senior consultant gynaecologist to jointly pay a compensation of Rs. 22 lakh with 12 per cent interest from the date of complaint, along with Rs. 20,000 as costs. The complainant underwent a laparoscopic hysterectomy, and following complications, she had to undergo several more surgeries in order to repair the urinary bladder that was damaged during the earlier surgery, resulting in incontinence. The complainant deposed before the Commission that the severe damage she suffered was due to the negligence of the doctor, who had done the first surgery without the informed consent of the patient. “Apart from the huge financial loss the family suffered, the woman continues to be traumatised because of her medical problems which has severely compromised her quality of life”, the Commission observed.

Thus, it is important for medical professionals to exercise caution and a reasonable degree of skill and care while treating patients, as it concerns priceless human life.

(The writer works with CAG, which offers free advice on consumer complaints to its members. For membership details / queries contact 2491 4358 / 2446 0387 or helpdesk@cag.org.in)