The painful reality of medical malpractice and negligence

Patients’ lack of awareness about their own rights, combined with doctors’ insensitivity towards their treatment, often results in suffering for the patients and their families. What is the step forward in such situations?

Last Updated on May 13, 2023 by Neelam Singh

Medical negligence is not something new to know about. In 2021, an incident happened where a man died because of alleged negligence shown by a doctor couple and their staff members. In 2023, it was reported from Bihar that a woman, who had gone to a doctor for treating her ear, eventually had one of her arms amputated after a wrong injection was given to her. Several such cases are recorded on a website called Kanoon that show how heavily patients are paying for doctor’s irresponsibility – either by losing a key organ or even their lives.

Every year, 52,00,000 people die in India because of medical negligence. These numbers suggest how grave the problem of doctors’ negligence is and the lack of social seriousness in dealing with it.

Medical negligence puts patients’ lives at risk

Seeing the problem initially, one might think that it is perhaps not too serious an issue but on giving it a second thought, one would understand that somebody is made to pay the price for somebody else’s fault with his/her own life. How do you explain a situation where a patient loses her arm after going for an ear treatment? But the fact remains that the individual’s life never remained the same after such a tragic outcome caused only by medical negligence.

In Punjab, a family even moved to police after an elderly person died due to alleged negligence by the administration of a local hospital. Dipak Kumar, who lives in the state’s Ludhiana area, told the police that his father was admitted in the local Arogya Hospital on January 15 this year for the treatment of an infection. Three days later, a doctor couple attending the patient shifted him to the recovery room after a surgery. According to Kumar, “It was cold then. A blanket kept over my father and a heater was kept in between his legs. I noticed smoke coming from under the blanket and when I removed it, I saw both his feet were completely scorched by the heater. When I drew the doctors’ attention, they assured me that he would be treated properly but my father’s condition got worse. He was shifted to DMC and the doctors there amputated one of his legs. On April 12, he was referred to PGI Chandigarh where he passed away on April 20.”

With the instances of doctors’ negligence growing, it is becoming even more important for a citizen to know about his/her rights so that he/she can take the help of law when the need arises. Proving medical negligence by doctors is not an easy thing to do since the patients have very little evidence, but if a doctor, for example, administers a wrong drug, then it can be categorised as a case of medical negligence. There are many cases where pregnant women die due to doctors’ negligence. Lack of adequate communication between a doctor and his/her patient can also result in medical negligence.

Know sections 337 & 338 of IPC

Section 337 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) deals with general harms caused due to negligence. Although the term ‘doctor’ is not mentioned in this section, it applies to all forms of negligence. The law comes into effect even if an act of negligence causes the slightest of damage. The legal provisions also speak of imprisonment up to six months.

Section 338 of the IPC comes into effect if one’s negligence causes grievous harm to another person. If a doctor commits a medical negligence during treatment and it causes any permanent injury to the patient or loss of life, then the concerned doctor can be accused under this section. If a person is proved guilty under this law, it could lead to imprisonment of up to two years.

Doctors’ services come under the purview of Consumer Protection Act which means the rights of the recipient of the services need to be protected. If a consumer faces any damage – physical or related to health — due to an act committed by a service/products provider/producer, then the case can be tried under the Consumer Protection Act.

Making the right use of law

While a patient who has faced medical negligence can take help of the law and legal procedures to move court, sometimes the cases become so serious that proving doctors’ alleged act of negligence becomes a challenging task. There are also several cases where the patients try to take undue advantage of the law and even target doctors physically.   

If an injustice has been done, it is absolutely right to raise a voice against it. It is also equally important to know the reason behind an act of negligence. There could be factors such as excessive pressure at work; personal reasons, etc. Knowing the details would help one understand the doctors’ mental condition and steps could be taken to minimise the instances of medical negligence during treatment of patients. It is only through cooperation between all parties that a positive change can be expected to happen.

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