Madras HC says proper medical care is patient's right

Justice GR Swaminathan also mooted digitization of medical records of patients so that hospitals can furnish them to patients when needed.
Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court
Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court

MADURAI:  Observing that patients have the right to receive decent medical care and information about the treatment offered to them, the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court ordered payment of Rs 75,000 compensation to a mother, whose newborn died in a government hospital in 2014, for infringement of the above rights.

Justice GR Swaminathan also mooted digitization of medical records of patients so that hospitals can furnish them to patients when needed.

The judge passed the order on a petition filed by the baby's mother, V Jothi, who sought Rs 15 lakh compensation for the death of her child due to alleged medical negligence.

As per the case record, Jothi was admitted to Mudukulathur GH in Ramanathapuram on May 17, 2014, and she delivered a girl the next day through normal delivery. The baby, however, developed asphyxia and both the mother and child were referred to Paramakudi GH immediately for further treatment. Since the baby required ventilator support, which was not available in Paramakudi GH, they were moved to the Government Rajaji Hospital (GRH) in Madurai. The baby died on May 20, 2014, without responding to treatment.

If the doctors had performed a C-section instead of choosing 'normal delivery' method, the child might have survived, Jothi alleged. But the judge said the decision of the doctors (opting for normal delivery) cannot be faulted as caesarean is preferred only when there are complications.

The judge, however, took note of the physical strain the patient must have undergone to travel to GRH due to lack of ventilator support in Paramakudi GH. "Any government hospital should be equipped with basic infrastructural facilities and a patient can legitimately expect them to be available and functional," he said.
Quoting excerpts from former chief economic advisor of India Kaushik Basu's book, "Policymaker's Journal", in which the economist had shared how he was made to run from pillar to post by the staff of a government hospital in New Delhi for getting medical fitness certificate, the judge said, "If this could be the experience of a top bureaucrat reporting directly to the Prime Minister of India, one can imagine the fate of the lakhs of ordinary poor patients thronging the portals of government hospitals. The doors of Kauvery Hospital and Apollo will open only to the monied. A person wanting in resources will have to go only to a government hospital."

He also criticised the statement of the hospital authorities that they could not provide information to the petitioner to her RTI application seeking details of the treatment given to her as the treatment records have gone missing. "A patient is entitled to be furnished with all the relevant records pertaining to his or her treatment. This right can be effectuated only if the information is stored digitally," the judge said, and directed the state health department to pay compensation to the petitioner within two months.

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