No doctor can assure life, can only attempt to treat his patient to the best of his ability: Supreme Court

  • Aishwarya Iyer
  • 11:20 AM, 06 Dec 2021

"No doctor can assure life to his patient but can only attempt to treat his patient to the best of his ability", remarked the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The Court further opined that a family may not be able to cope with the loss of their loved one, but the Hospital and the Doctor cannot be blamed as they provide the requisite care at all given times.

A bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and V Ramasubramaniam made these observations while hearing an appeal filed by Bombay Hospital & Medical Research Centre and Dr. C Anand Somaya against an order passed by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission directing them to pay a sum of Rs. 14,18,491/-

A complaint was filed before the Commission by the legal heirs of deceased - patient Dinesh Jaiswal, alleging medical negligence on the part of the Hospital and the Doctor in treating the patient.

Jaiswal was admitted to the Hospital on April 24, 1998 and breathed his last on June 12, 1998. He was taking treatment since 1990 for having difficulties in walking due to pain and discomfort in legs. For his complaint of inability to walk, a Colour Doppler Test was conducted on April 13, 1998 at Khemuka X-Ray & Ultrasound Clinic, Nagpur. After diagnosis, Jaiswal was referred to the appellant-Doctor who is a Vascular Surgeon.

The Doctor ordered the admission of the patient as an urgent case of aorta aneurysum. On April 22, 1998, the Doctor advised urgent DSA/CAT Scan [Digital Sub-Traction Angiography and Computerized Axial Tomography] and surgery.

After examining the patient, the Doctor recorded that there were ischemic changes in both lower limbs and also noted an impending gangrene. Subsequent to the pre-operative preparations, surgery was conducted on April 23 by a team of surgeons including Dr. Partha and Dr. Bindra, led by the appellant-Doctor.

The night of the surgery, the nurse who was attending the patient observed that the pulsation of the patient had become feeble and body temperature was low and the lower limbs had gone cold. Accordingly, an angiography was conducted which showed a block (clot) at the graft due to which the blood supply to the lower limbs had totally stopped.

A fresh graft was sutured and the patient was shifted to recovery room and put on ventilator.

Numerous grievances were raised by the complainant including the fact that angiography was performed after 8 hours of discovering that blood supply has stopped; the Hospital delayed treatment by 12 hours as no operation theatre was available; the Doctor did not attend the patient and left him in the care of inexperienced doctors; Doctor failed to amputate legs on time on account of gangrene and did not try to treat the gangrene; etc.

The top court found that although Jaiswal had been had referred to the Doctor on April 15, 1998 with advice of urgent surgical repair of Aneurysum, he had taken another six days to consult Doctor at Mumbai . Therefore, gangrene was not found to be impending after few days of admission to the Hospital but even before the patient was admitted, noted the Court.

"There is no proof that there was any negligence in performing the surgery on 23.4.1998 or in the process of re-exploration on 24.4.1998. The allegation is of failure of the Doctor to take the follow-up action after surgery on 23.4.1998, a delayed decision to amputate the leg subsequent to re-exploration on 24.4.1998, and the alleged undue foreign visit of the Doctor.", noted the bench.

In respect of the contention of the Doctor being on a foreign visit, the Court said,

" is well known a medical professional has to upgrade himself with the latest development in his field which may require him to attend conferences held both in and outside the country. Mere fact that the Doctor had gone abroad cannot lead to an inference of medical negligence as the patient was admitted in a hospital having specialists in multi-faculties."

The stand of the complainant that since surgery was performed by a doctor, he alone would be responsible for different aspects of the treatment required and given to the patient was also held to be an incorrect assumption.

The sole basis of finding of negligence against the Hospital was found to be that of res ipsa loquitor. 

Since the complainant led no evidence of experts to prove the alleged medical negligence, the bench noted that a perusal of the medical record produced did not show any omission in the manner of treatment. 

"A team of specialist doctors was available and also have attended to the patient but unfortunately nature had the last word and the patient breathed his last. The family may not have coped with the loss of their loved one, but the Hospital and the Doctor cannot be blamed as they provided the requisite care at all given times", further noted the Bench.

The Commissions' decision were thus held to be not sustainable in law.

"By virtue of an interim order passed by this Court on 8.3.2010, a sum of Rs. 5 lakhs was disbursed to the complainant. The said amount is ordered to be treated as ex gratia payment to the complainant and not to be recovered back by either the Hospital or the Doctor", ordered the Bench while dismissing the appeal.