While treatment plays an important role, maintaining cleanliness and avoiding contamination is also a crucial part of hospital administration. Failure to maintain hygiene can make the hospital liable to pay compensation.
Case Study: Hitendra Kakkar suffered burns due to firecrackers on October 26, 2008, and was rushed to a local hospital, which referred him to Government Medical College and Hospital in Chandigarh. He was taken to the emergency ward and later shifted to bed no. 1 in the burns ward. He soon began responding to the treatment. On November 7, 2008, Kakkar was shifted to bed no. 8 in room no. 5 as bed no. 1 had to be allotted to Parveen Kumar, who was critical with 80% burns. Within a few hours, Kumar died. The next morning, Kakkar was shifted back to bed no. 1 without sterilizing or disinfecting it. Thereafter, Kakkar's condition began to deteriorate and he died the same night. His parents—Geeta Rani and Gurwinditta Kakkar—his widow Himani and minor daughter Tulika filed a complaint before the district forum, alleging that he had contracted infection due to negligence on the part of the hospital staff and doctors who had failed to sterilize or disinfect the bed. They alleged that an attempt was made to cover up this negligence in the post-mortem report by recording the cause of death to be septicaemia due to burn injuries.
The hospital and the doctors (opposite parties) contested the case, stating that they had treated Kakkar, who had sustained 50% second and third degree burns, with utmost care. They claimed all the beds were regularly carbolized and utmost hygienic conditions maintained and sought dismissal of the complaint. They contended that Kakkar had developed respiratory distress and septicaemia due to pus pockets in both lungs and kidneys, resulting in cardiac arrest. But the forum direct-ed the state administration and the hospital to pay Rs 8 lakh compensation, along with Rs 10,000 towards litigation costs. Appeals against the order were dismissed by the Chandigarh state commission. The dispute finally reached the national commission in revision where the Kakkars sought an enhancement of compensation.
The national commission observed that there was concurrent finding by the forum as well as the state commission that Kakkar's condition had aggravated due to failure to disinfect the bed. However, the commission observed that there was no evidence to show that Kakkar's death was solely due to failure to disinfect the bed or change bedsheets. On the contrary, the post-mortem report established the cause of death to be due to septicaemia due to burn injuries. By its order of February 1, delivered by Justice KS Chaudhari, the national commission dismissed the revision petitions.
Conclusion: A hospital must ensure that cleanliness is maintained and contaminated items of one patient are not used for another. A patient whose condition gets aggravated due to such failure to maintain hygiene can claim compensation.