During a surgery for a broken hip joint, the doctors left a guide-wire inside the abdomen of Chander Kant, 63. It took five years for Chander and her husband Rohtar Singh, who is a labourer, to win a compensation order from the court. Over an year after that judgment, they are yet to receive any money.
“Instead of the week needed to fix a hip fracture, she ended up in the hospital for close to five months,” said Rohtar who has spent Rs 2 lakh on medicines and consumables. The wire, which is used to place the screws in the hip joint, had damaged Chander’s bladder, uterus, large intestine and colon.
Like Chander, for most victims of medical negligence, it is a difficult road to justice. The cases linger on even as the victims have to deal with the botched up medical procedure. Legal systems are tricky and negligence is hard to prove.
“Once a complaint is received, it is put before the executive committee. If there is merit in the complaint, another panel, including experts from the field that is under investigation, checks the complaint and collects proof like patient records, MRI and other scans,” says Dr Girish Tyagi, Delhi Medical Council.
medical negligence series
“If the committee concludes that there was negligence, the complaint is referred to the disciplinary committee. Then a hearing is held with the complainant, the hospitals and the doctors involved, and the panel passes a judgment. The ruling then has to be approved by all the 23 medical council members, which can take up to two years or sometimes even more as there is a huge backlog,” said Tyagi.
A number of sufferers in such cases are poor and cannot afford a court fight. Chander, for example, lost bladder control after the surgery and was abandoned by her sons.
How to maximise your chances of getting justice
- In case of death, insist on post-mortem.
- Based on the post-mortem, file a police complaint under Section 304 of IPC. Even if a post-mortem has not been done, file a police report.
- Immediately make a written request to the hospital for the complete â€˜Medical Recordsâ€™, citing Section 1.3.2 of MCI Code of Ethics & Regulations. All hospitals/nursing homes have to give the records within 72 hours of your filing the application.
- Write a complaint with detailed evidences (photocopies) to the State Medical Council with copy to Medical Council of India (MCI) and also the State Health Ministry;
- Be prepared to record statements during cross examination. Always ask for a certified copy of statements recorded as soon as possible after each hearing.
- If the state Medical Council does not act within six months, file a complaint to the MCI for transfer of your case.
- If the state government colludes, complain to the State Vigilance Officer/Lokayukta.
- If the hospital has international accreditation with the Joint Commission International (JCI) and National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Healthcare providers (NABH), file a complaint with them.
- Ask for a possible â€œcivil caseâ€ (for compensation) within two years and â€œcriminal caseâ€, where appropriate. Consult doctors while preparing the case so that points of medical negligence are clearly spelled out and there is enough supporting documentation.
- Do not hand over any original document of treatment or any other evidence to anybody, not even to your lawyers, friends or any organisation. If needed, submit only attested photocopies in the Courts after showing the originals to the judges/ investigators.
The Tis Hazari court held the doctors negligent and ordered Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital to pay Rs3 lakh as compensation. The court said if the amount was not paid within a month, the hospital will have to pay 6% interest. The hospital is yet to pay. “We appealed the decision in the high court,” said Dr Puneeta Mahajan, who then held the additional position of Medical Superintendant, DDU.
Rohtar says that after the surgery, Chander was in pain but got attention only after three days as it was a weekend and senior doctors were not around. An X-ray showed the guide-wire which was removed through a corrective surgery. By then, her perforated intestine had released bodily waste into the abdomen causing life-threatening sepsis.
Chander underwent a colostomy to create an alternate passage for faeces. “Now I’m told I need hip replacement, which costs up to Rs1.5 lakh. What do I do?” said Chander.