Saturday, March 9, 2019

Supreme Court awards additional compensation of Rs 10 lakh for the “insensitivity” shown by the hospital and doctors

Responsiveness and diligence of professionals has to be equi-balanced for all their consumers” says Supreme Court

The Supreme Court on Thursday granted an additional Rs 10 lakh in compensation to a poor woman from the hills in a medical negligence case on finding that when she was writhing in pain, doctors at a Shimla hospital insensitively chided her by saying “people from hilly areas make unnecessary noise”

Due to medical negligence at Ripon Hospital, Shimla, the woman’s right arm had to be amputated. The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission awarded her Rs 2 lakh compensation in addition to Rs 2.93 lakh ex-gratia granted by the state consumer forum. She appealed in the SC and sought more compensation.

In its judgement in the matter of Shoda Devi vs DDU/Ripon Hospital Shimla and Ors Civil Appeal No. 2557 of 2019 (Arising out of Special Leave Petition (Civil) No. 26789 of 2018), the Apex Court held as follows:

“16.3 Such granting of reasonability higher amount of compensation in the present case appears necessary to serve dual purposes: one, to provide some succour and support to the appellant against the hardship and disadvantage due to amputation of right arm; and second, to send the message to the professionals that their responsiveness and diligence has to be equi-balanced for all their consumers and all the human beings deserve to be treated with equal respect and sensitivity.

We are impelled to make these observations in the context of an uncomfortable fact indicated on record that when the appellant was writhing in pain, she was not immediately attended at and was snubbed with the retort that ‘the people from hilly areas make unnecessary noise’. Such remarks, obviously, added insult to the injury and were least expected of the professionals on public duties.”

The Constitution of India guarantees the right to equality in Article 14 Equality before law, which states “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.” This means that every citizen is equal before the law and is equally protected by the laws of the country, which cannot be denied by the state.

Article 15 prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.

Such scattered incidents bring disrepute to the medical profession and put further strain on the already fragile doctor-patient relationship.

Doctors are role models and have an ethical duty to “uphold the dignity and honour of their profession”, a dictum also laid down in the MCI Code of Ethics regulations (1.1.1).

Patients are our assets. To treat and save the life of a person is our dharma. This is why we chose to become doctors.

The MCI Declaration, which a doctor is required to sign at the time of registration, also says:

“I will not permit considerations of religion, nationality, race, party politics or social standing to intervene between my duty and my patient (4).”

“I will practice my profession with conscience and dignity (5).”

“The health of my patient will be my first consideration (6).”

This case brings to my mind an encounter I had with a patient some few years back.

I was working in the morning OPD just after completing a night shift at the hospital. A patient came in and I proceeded with the routine history and physical examination. In the midst of this, I yawned. The patient asked me, “What is the matter?” I answered that I had just finished a night shift and had come straight to the OPD.

I was expecting the patient to commiserate with me and say something sympathetic about the tough and grueling hours doctors put in.

To this, his response was, “Then why are you here? You should go home. I have paid a fee for the consultation and expect your complete attention. It is the hospital’s duty to arrange for a replacement in case you are not able to give me your 100% attention.”

This was not something I had anticipated. It was indeed humbling and
I learnt a lesson for life.

Patients are our first and foremost concern and their health and well-being is our responsibility and should also be a priority.

Doctors cannot and should not disrespect the patient, nor can they be rude to the patient. They are expected to act in a manner befitting their position in the society. The dignity and honor of the patient needs to be maintained at all times.

The importance of etiquettes and respect in our everyday interactions with not only our patients, but also with others, cannot be emphasized enough.

“Patience and delicacy should characterize the physician”, says MCI Regulation 2.2.

Dr KK Aggarwal
Padma Shri Awardee
President Elect Confederation of Medical Associations in Asia and Oceania   (CMAAO)
Group Editor-in-Chief IJCP Publications
President Heart Care Foundation of India
Past National President IMA

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