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Seeking Justice for Medical Negligence in Kashmir

Private hospitals have become money minting machines, says a Srinagar couple who lost their newborn baby to medical negligence.

Government healthcare in India, which is supposed to be entirely free or heavily subsidised, is often considered synonymous with poor service. In the absence of an efficient public health system, private healthcare is often the choice for many, even if it pushes families into debt. With their high charges, they are expected to deliver quality and respectful healthcare. But do they meet these expectations?

In the words of Gazala, who lost her child to medical negligence at a private hospital in Srinagar, they are simply money-minting machines.

Gazala says that she had a very smooth pregnancy until the seventh month when an ultrasound detected that the fetus had mild IUGR, a condition which restricts fetal growth in the uterus. Throughout her pregnancy, she had been consulting a gynaecologist at Noora Hospital, who referred her to her own private clinic, Rehmat, for the ultrasound in the seventh month. “The gynaecologist, Salima Akhtar, recommended a caesarean section two weeks ahead of the expected date of delivery. Although the next ultrasound showed no sign of IUGR and, in fact, suggested a later delivery date, the doctor insisted that the caesarean section be performed on an earlier date,” recounts Gazala.  

Trusting the doctor, Gazala and her husband Altaf went ahead with the surgical procedure and had their baby on November 14, 2017. However, the baby developed some complications and the paediatrician at Noora Hospital, Javed Bhat, recommended taking him to Jhelum Valley Hospital (JVC), a government hospital, adding that it was nothing serious. But after being examined by doctors at JVC, who found the condition to be serious, the baby was admitted to the pediatric ICU where he died within a week.

“How could she conduct the surgery without a paediatrician, especially when the baby had an IUGR condition in the seventh month? According to Supreme Court guidelines, it is mandatory for a paediatrician to be present at the time of delivery,“ says Gazala.

She was also unnerved that no one told her whether to feed the baby or not and found out that the nurse had already fed him. “When I saw that my son had bubbles around his mouth, I  asked the nurse to call the paediatrician, but she told me that that the paediatrician was at another hospital at that time”, she says.

No doctor came to see Gazala and her baby up to three hours after her delivery. And when they did, it was obviously too late. And, when Gazala confronted Salima Akhtar, she was told that it was god’s doing.

Medical negligence is reportedly difficult to prove under Indian laws, it can be proven only by a committee of doctors from different State Medical Councils. Anuradha Saha’s death at Kolkata’s AMRI Hospital and the subsequent 15 years long legal battle for compensation which her husband won was believed to set a precedent. But it didn’t. Amit Sengupta, the Convenor of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, in an interview with The Hindu, explains that doctors don’t go on record against doctors, especially not against corporate hospitals.

The report also states that according to data from the Medical Council of India (MCI), only 167 doctors have been temporarily blacklisted in the last six years; the MCI has never revoked a doctor’s medical license in cases of medical negligence.

It is little wonder, then, that a doctor is able to wash her hands off all responsibility by saying that it was god’s doing.

Explaining the level of carelessness by the hospital, Altaf says that when the paediatrician at Noora asked them to take the baby to JVC, they asked him if they should use the ambulance. “They said that it wasn’t serious and I could take my personal car if I had one, so I did. Wasn’t it their duty to tell us that the baby was critical?”

According to them, the hospital kept the couple in the dark about certain things, right from the time of the ultrasound, and also explicitly deprived them of their rights as care-seekers. Moreover, the doctors at Noora treated them, especially Gazala, with disrespect.

The family eventually filed a case against Noora Hospital which is now pending in the Srinagar High Court. Unfortunately, not enough cases of medical negligence have led to victories for the complainants, and there is little to draw hope from. The Hippocratic Oath, in such situations, remains a hollow oath, overshadowed by the money minting healthcare system that the grieving couple is fighting against.

Video by Community Correspondent Nadiya Shafi

Article by Alankrita Anand, a member of the VV Editorial Team

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