The usual suspension-of-doctors-and-then-nothing-much response won’t do in the case of a young woman footballer’s death in Chennai after a botched surgery. Priya R, suffering from a torn ligament, was promised that surgery Eighteen-year-old would help her play better – her ambition was a government job through the sports quota. But her right leg was amputated following the surgery, and the complications kept mounting, culminating in multi-organ failure. A health department inquiry had found negligence on the part of doctors.
But only after Priya’s death were the doctors suspended from service and an FIR lodged. The initial official response was to transfer the two doctors to government hospitals in other districts. Across states, transfers are the standard first response when cases of dereliction of duty surface. Governments are wary of alienating powerful unions representing various classes of state employees. Strangely in a democracy, no government thinks of the terrible disservice to people. When medical negligence is prima facie proven, as it is in the present case, governments must immediately lodge FIRS under Section 337/338 IPC (causing hurt/grievous hurt for negligent act) or Section 304A (causing death by negligence).
The National Medical Commission’s guidelines require police, prior to arresting doctors, to consult medical boards of the district or state medical council, giving the relevant board two weeks each to make recommendations. But such timelines are difficult to adhere to, as in the present case, when there’s tremendous pressure on governments to arrest errant doctors quickly. True, relatives of patients venting their anger by assaulting doctors must be punished. But equally, the state mustn’t shield doctors. Evidence must be carefully collected and preserved and chargesheets filed promptly to help courts arrive at a conclusive finding on medical negligence.