Medical negligence remains a reality

Illustration: Satheesh Vellinezhi

Illustration: Satheesh Vellinezhi
| Photo Credit: Satheesh Vellinezhi TH

For K.K. Harshina, life took a sad turn after she underwent a C-section in 2017.  “Pain sears along my body when I work and I am increasingly confined to bed, unable to take care of even my children,” said the 30-year-old woman, a native of Thamarassery. The woman had carried a surgical instrument in her abdomen for five long years after a surgery at the Government Medical College Hospital, Kozhikode. 

The presence of the forceps inside her body was identified during a CT scan earlier this year, following which the she underwent yet another surgery at the same hospital in October this year. The Health Minister soon ordered a probe into the episode, followed by an internal probe by the hospital management. Astonishingly, both investigations failed to fix responsibility for the slip-up that could have cost the woman her life. The State government has now declared yet another round of investigation for more clarity on the issue. 

“More than the cover-up attempts by doctors at the medical college, what left me puzzled was why I had been kept in the dark about the results of these investigations. Health Minister Veena George, who had remained elusive for weeks on end, reached out to me soon after I approached the media once again and assured me of another round of investigation,’’ she added. 

Blot on reputation

Such allegations of criminal negligence by healthcare staff, poor care, and incompetency have become a blemish on the otherwise excellent reputation enjoyed by Kerala’s health sector, according to experts and healthcare professionals. They also emphasise how hard it is to agree on the ways to gauge the extent of medical negligence amidst denials and attempted cover-ups.  “The focus should be on whether a particular doctor has been able to deliver a reasonable degree of care within his limitations. At the same time, it should also not be a reason for unleashing violence against the healthcare professionals,” said Jinesh P.S., a public health activist and co-founder of Info Clinic, an online platform of medical professional created to spread scientific awareness about health.  

Health as basic right

Declaring health as a basic right and constitution of an ombudsman to look into the complaints against medical institutions, according to him, could be the key step in this regard. The institutions, on their part, should take up a frank audit, involving various departments, of the factors that lead to slip-ups in each case, he added.

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