Almost 15 years after a woman was treated for chest pain and breathlessness and died, the state consumer dispute redressal commission held her doctor liable for medical negligence.

The commission held that Dr Ashit Hegde “lacked skill and due care” while treating her for collection of fluid around her lungs, resulting in a rupture of her spleen that led to her death. The doctor was ordered to pay her family Rs 41 lakhs as compensation.
Swapna Tamhane was 35 years old when she died in 2002. A year later, her husband, Prashant Tamhane, approached the commission against the doctor attached to P D Hinduja Hospital as an intensivist and the hospital, seeking Rs 87 lakh as damages for “faulty treatment” that left their two children, then aged four and seven, motherless.

After hearing Dr M S Kamath, authorized representative for the husband, and advocates S B Prabhavalkar and G N Shenoy for the hospital and the doctor, respectively, the commission concluded that the hospital was not at fault and absolved it. “Hinduja Hospital has no role in the deficiencies in service rendered to the patient,” held Justice A P Bhangale, the commission president, and judicial member D R Shirasao.

The doctor denied any negligence and said the complaint was based on conjecture and not facts. He argued that the patient suffered from alcoholic hepatitis and early cirrhosis of liver. The commission said, “It is true that the patient would not have survived for many years with such ailments… but Dr Hegde is personally blameworthy for the punctured spleen which hastened the death.”

The order, which was pronounced on March 31, held that the “liability of deficiency in service was exclusively of Dr Hegde”. The doctor had “casually” performed what he said was a “minor procedure” on the woman on July 23, 2002, in the hospital’s casualty section, after diagnosing “pleural effusion”. The woman had visited the hospital the previous week as her family doctor had advised immediate hospitalization when she showed symptoms of hepatitis. Dr Hegde did not advise hospitalisation, the commission was told.

Negligence was evident, as while tapping her with a needle twice to clear the effusion, Dr Hedge had failed to take help of an ultrasound. “There was profuse internal bleeding,” A scan showed that the needle had punctured the spleen. The doctor then admitted her and sought to remove the spleen. “The subsequent decision to remove the affected spleen, in a major operation, was the obvious cause of death in post-mortem findings and established the doctor’s negligence,” said the commission. “This was not a case of accident but blameworthy rashness…on the part of Dr Hegde,” said the judgment. However, the commission said the demand for Rs 87 lakh was “exorbitant”.
Compensation cannot be a lottery or a jackpot for a patient who was suffering from jaundice, hepatitis for which she was under Dr Hegde’s treatment.”
Courtesy: NCDRC

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