In a case where the Delhi Police filed its charge-sheet entirely relying on a medical board inquiry report, indicting two doctors and three nurses of carelessness while treating a critically-ill tuberculosis patient, a Sessions court here has said that simply because they were proceeded against departmentally it does not “per-se make them liable for criminal negligence”.

The Sessions court was upholding a magisterial court order discharging the two doctors and three nurses of the Rajan Babu Institute of Pulmonary Medicine and Tuberculosis (formerly RBTB Hospital) accused of collective gross negligence that led to the death of a patient in June 2002. The magistrate had discharged them as the evidence in the charge-sheet filed by the Mukherjee Nagar police was prima facie not sufficient to warrant framing of charge against them under Section 304A (causing death by negligence) of the Indian Penal Code. The State then moved a revision petition against the order.

Additional Sessions Judge Kamini Lau also noted in her order that the patient was brought to the hospital at a very late stage in his illness. “This being the background and there being material on record to prima facie show a gross degree of inadvertence or negligence or lack of adequate care or caution by the respondents simply because they have been proceeded against departmentally does not, per-se, make them liable for criminal negligence. The standard for both is totally different,” Ms. Lau said.

The patient was suffering from a rare and highly contagious form of TB known as Pul-Koch’s disease. The Judge also noted that while the line of treatment the doctors adopted seemed to be a standard one, the investigating officer had not annexed with the charge-sheet, a medical expert’s opinion on an alternative line of treatment that should have been followed. The court said this would have helped to show whether there was any negligence by the hospital staff with regard to the treatment administered.

“It is writ large that during the period of stay of the patient in the hospital, no complaint was made to the hospital management by the relatives of the deceased and the complaint in the present case had been filed after much delay on legal advice,” Ms. Lau said.

According to the prosecution, Attar Mohammed was admitted to the emergency ward of RBTB Hospital on June 26, 2002, in a critical condition. On June 27, he was shifted to another ward despite his condition being serious. On June 29, the patient was continuously administered glucose and he showed improvement. On the intervening night of June 29 and 30, there was allegedly no attendant, nurse or doctor on duty in the duty room nearby. The glucose bottle had allegedly gone empty and he started to bleed from where the needle was injected. Attar’s relatives allegedly tried to get a doctor or nurse to attend to him all night. A nurse came finally but despite repeated entreaties did not allegedly call a doctor till 4 p.m. The relatives allege a doctor examined the patient “half-heartedly” and a little later the patient fell unconscious and died around 4-45 p.m.

Ms. Lau said in her order: “It should not be forgotten that the service which medical professionals render to a human being is noblest to all. A doctor is often called upon to adopt the procedure involving higher element of risk where he honestly believes that such risk would provide greater chances to a patient before them…Simply because the patient has not responded favourably to a treatment given, the doctor cannot be held liable. It should not be forgotten that error of judgment by a professional is not negligence per-se and therefore, the obligation upon the court to ensure that doctors and medical practitioners are protected from frivolous and unjust prosecution and they be summoned only in cases of high degree of culpable criminal negligence.”

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