Lakshmi’s eight-year-old son suffered a left wrist fracture on January 16, 2006. He was taken to a nearby hospital which administered first aid, and advised Lakshmi to approach a better-equipped hospital for treatment.
Since Lakshmi hailed from a poor family, she took her son to Royapettah Government Hospital in Chennai, where orthopaedic doctors applied plaster of paris (POP) on the injured hand. After two days, the child was again taken to the hospital. After an X-ray, doctors applied plaster again and gave some medicines. The following day, Lakshmi noticed some smell emanating from the bandage and pus oozing out. She rushed her son to a nearby nursing home which refused to attend to the child. Lakshmi rushed to Royapettah , where doctors removed the plaster after repeated pleas and asked Lakshmi to take her son to Government General Hospital.
Government General Hospital doctors examined the boy and opined that the POP applied at Royapettah had blocked blood circulation, causing decomposition of the left hand. The child’s hand had to be amputated to save his life.
Lakshmi filed a complaint before the Tamil Nadu State Consumer Commission, alleging negligence on part of Royapettah General Hospital. The hospital contested the case, saying the complaint was not maintainable as free services had been rendered by doctors working in a government hospital. The hospital said the child had grade I compound fracture. As there was a punctured wound, a thorough wash was given using antibiotics, closed reduction was performed, after which padding, dressing and POP was applied as protocol. The necessary analgesics and antibiotics were also given. The tightness of the bandage was examined during follow up Later, when puss started oozing out, it was suspected to be due to infection from sepsis of the fingers, so the child was referred to a higher centre. The hospital denied any negligence and sought a dismissal of the complaint.
The Tamil Nadu State Commission concluded there was negligence in treating the child, for which the hospital was directed to pay Rs 10 lakh compensation and Rs 10,000 towards costs. The hospital approached the National Commission in appeal, reiterating its stand.
The National Commission overruled the hospital’s objection and held that Lakshmi’s complaint was maintainable.
The commission observed that once Lakshmi had made out a case of negligence, the onus of proof shifted upon doctors to establish they had acted with care. In this case, the facts by themselves revealed negligence Lakshmi’s request to furnish names of treating doctors was also held to be a deliberate suppression by the hospital, constituting a deficiency in service.
Conclusion: By an order of October 28, the National Commission dismissed the hospital’s appeal and upheld the state commission’s order.
(The author is a consumer activist and has won the Govt of India’s National Youth Award for Consumer Protection. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org)