If anyone had any doubts about just how difficult it is to get justice in a medical negligence case, they only need to look at the case of the death of 40-year-old Nidhi Srivastava in January 2011. It has taken over five years for the trial to begin in the chief judicial magistrate's court in Lucknow after the Supreme Court ruled recently that it would not quash the FIR registered against the accused doctor and asked him to surrender and seek bail from the trial court.
The accused doctor, Dr Vipul Shah, continues to practice as he got a stay from the High Court on the suspension of his licence for three years by the Medical Council of India (MCI), which found his treatment faulty. The MCI found that Shah had prescribed a medicine used for rheumatic arthritis though she was not a patient of rheumatic arthritis. The medicine, Leflunomide, known to cause liver toxicity, was given despite a liver function test showing she had liver damage. This caused liver failure and she died on January 17, 2011. Nidhi had consulted him for pain in the right shoulder.
MCI also found that Shah was unable to substantiate that he was a practising orthopaedician in Uttar Pradesh with a valid post-graduate qualification or that he was registered with the UP Medical Council. They also found that he was using the logo of the American Academy of Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine without any authorization. The council found that he was making several such misleading claims.
Nidhi's husband Sudhir Srivastava, who works in Axis Bank, Lucknow has been relentlessly pursuing cases in Lucknow and Delhi in various courts, medical councils and consumer courts at great personal and monetary cost. "I have to look after my three children, the oldest aged 18 years and the youngest just 12. My parents, who are over 80, stay with me and help out. I am determined to get justice. Shah not only gave a drug that led to her death but also cheated patients through false claims about his qualifications. Yet some police officials are helping him by diluting the case by changing the sections in the FIR," said Srivastava, who is now the UP coordinator of the organisation People For Better Treatment, which helps people fight against medical negligence.
The MCI ethics committee had warned that if Shah was found practising medicine during his suspension his licence would be suspended for another five years. Thanks to the HC stay Shah continues to practice with impunity. And over five years after the FIR was registered, the trial is just set to start.Time Line:
January 2011- Nidhi Srivastava (40) dies in a hospital in Delhi. Death certificate says she died of "drug Leflunomide-induced hepatitis"
June 2011- Nidhi's husband Sudhir Srivastava files complaint in Uttar Pradesh Medical Council (UPMC) against Dr Vipul Shah of Lucknow, who prescribed Leflunomide to Nidhi despite the drug being dangerous for patients with impaired livers
August 2011- UPMC gives a clean chit to Dr Shah despite death certificate stating death was caused by drug induced hepatitis
Aug 2011- FIR lodged at Kaiser Bagh police station in Lucknow under section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder and section 420 of the IPC (forgery and cheating). Srivastava given a copy of FIR, but section 304 later changed to 304 A (causing death due to negligence)
August 2011- Dr Shah filed a writ in Allahabad high court for quashing of FIR. HC upholds FIR, seeks inquiry into its manipulation. Dr Shah challenges HC order in Supreme Court.
October 2011- Srivastava files protest petition before UPMC against clean chit given to Dr Shah. Case heard again, Dr Shah's licence suspended for 15 days
November 2011- Dr Shah files complaint in Medical Council of India (MCI) against UPMC order suspending his licence
June 2012- MCI rules that UPMC cannot review its own order and asks Srivastava to file fresh complaint before it
November 2012- Srivastava files fresh complaint before MCI
May 2014- MCI gives verdict, says Dr Shah's treatment was faulty and asks UPMC to suspend his licence for 3 years. MCI also finds that he was making false claims about practising in the UK and US and that Shah's letterhead contained misleading degrees not approved by MCI. His licence suspended for two years for these, but periods of suspension to run concurrently
June 2014 - Dr Shah files appeal against MCI order in Allahabad HC, obtains a stay. He continues to practice with no further hearings of the case
March 2016 - SC upholds HC order on original FIR, asks trial court to go ahead with the case. Asks Dr Shah to surrender and seek bail