The North-East BlogKnow what leading academics, writers, poets, musicians, activists and journalists from the region have to say to develop an informed perspective on matters related to this part of India.
Nothing can be more disastrous for society than when doctors turn mercenaries and put money before human life. The kind of medical malpractice that came into the public domain recently where a fully fit and healthy person was made to sign his own death warrant is frightening to say the least. And it is just because Sannjay Sharma is so well known and a media and communications person that the matter received the attention it did. No one knows how many patients die daily on account of medical negligence or because of some procedure conducted by a clique of medical specialists who fly in to Shillong, conduct an operation and fly out leaving someone else in the hospital/nursing home to take the rap in case something goes wrong. This is exactly what happened in the case of Sannjay Sharma.
The first reaction of many who have unstinted faith in a missionary run hospital is, "How could this happen in Nazareth Hospital?" It must be said to the credit of the hospital though, that they have only come out in their defence after a great deal of thought. Hospitals will always defend themselves. It goes without saying. That is why we require a credible system of enquiry into medical irregularities that occur with regular frequency but which many, especially the ignorant and poor take in their stride as a 'misfortune.'
Let's also not forget that in the past some private hospitals which have allegedly performed surgeries that nearly killed patients were blas enough to defend their actions and those of the surgeons. There are two questions that beg for answers as far as Sannjay Sharma's case is concerned. First, Sr. Mary Paul, the hospital administrator, was away for a short break. Second, Dr Gordon Rangad, the chief medical officer (CMO), a surgeon of repute who is trusted and respected by every person in Meghalaya, was allegedly not informed about the Lipo-suction procedure. Very few people know that Nazareth entertains doctors from outside.
Normally when anything good happens in a hospital it hardly gets any publicity. It takes a bad case of medical or surgical complications for the hospital to get a bad name. Less than two years ago, former Home Minister RG Lyngdoh underwent an operation that lasted almost 12 hours (from 9.00 am to 8.30 pm) to remove the cancerous parts of his esophagus. Many at the time advised RG Lyngdoh to go for treatment to some of the best known hospitals in the metros, for what seemed like a complicated surgery. But he was confident that Dr Rangad would do it with equal finesse and trusted his life with the amiable doctor. A few days after he came out of the surgery, RG sent a small mail to this paper to thank Dr Rangad and to encourage others with a penchant to fly out to Vellore, Mumbai, Delhi or Chennai at the first sign of an ailment, to have more faith in their local doctors. Talking about the complicated procedure, RG said, "They had to collapse my lungs then cut through the ribs to get to the esophagus." Dr Himjyoti the intensivist was present and so was the endoscopist Dr Islam. RG Lyngdoh is a living example of a very complicated surgery that was successful conducted.
Dr Rangad is a dedicated surgeon who is no less a missionary as the nuns in Nazareth Hospital. But his tribe is fast dwindling. A new breed of doctors have arrived on the scene who are termed by many as 'mercenaries'. They see the profession as an opportunity for a quick buck. And it would be futile to deny the existence of such doctors! Such doctors have a network of like-minded practitioners and promote each other at the cost of the patient. Many of them fly in to private hospitals and nursing homes, conduct an operation for which they charge a bomb and then fly out. Even in neighbouring Guwahati, friends have reported that doctors fly in from the metros, conduct an open heart surgery and fly out leaving the patient under the care of others.
This behaviour by a group that has taken the Hippocratic oath to serve suffering humanity is enough to shake our faiths in the medical fraternity. Fortunately, there are still some like Dr Rangad who have been able to instill a sense of service in their juniors mainly by example.
The point of this article is whether private nursing homes and hospitals can be left to regulate themselves. Clearly that is not happening. So who has the authority to regulate the manner in which hospitals and nursing homes are run? Where do patients and their relatives turn to in the face of a medical scam? Apart from taking the FIR route, is there no better way to get speedy redressal so that it also becomes a deterrent to other doctors and owners of nursing homes/hospitals? What is the role of the state as the powerful agency with which the citizen has signed a social contract with for safety and security? Please note that safety and security is a larger issue. It is not linked only to safety from bodily harm inflicted by criminals. There are other criminal agents around and the state therefore has to expand the ambit of security to cover these other threats to life. When a doctor experiments with a human life or is careless about an operation he/she has conducted that is a security threat, no less. Hence the state cannot wash its hands off the matter. There is now a need for a regulatory mechanism. Patients are not guinea pigs and their lives are not dispensable.
Should there not be some upper limit or standard consultation fees or payments for surgeries and other intervention? Can each surgeon fix his/her own price which sometimes is over the top? It is high time that citizens demand a more stringent medical environment in Meghalaya. How often do we find the public pointing fingers at the lack of facilities in government hospitals but when similar facilities are absent in private hospitals they hardly make common cause. In many ways we are also to blame for taking things lying down. No one is ready to take on the system whether public or private.
Clarifications and robust defence of the hospitals and nursing homes by those who run them is only to be expected. But it is their word against that of the family members. Can the state be the benevolent referee? That is the least that the state owes its citizens!
More about Patricia MukhimPatricia Mukhim is currently Editor, The Shillong Times, Meghalaya's oldest and largest circulating English daily. A winner of several journalistic awards, she is also Member, National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) and a much read columnist. Her articles appear in The Statesman, The Telegraph and The Assam Tribune.
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