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Refusal to treat crushes a right

SSKM boss ‘shocked’

A hospital has no right to refuse treatment to a patient in an emergency but that’s what three state-run medical establishments allegedly did to the homemaker whose left leg was crushed by a bus on Wednesday afternoon.

Homemaker Madhumita Halder, her crushed left leg in a cast after a delayed surgery that started at 3am on Thursday, lies on a mattress on the floor of a ward at Calcutta Medical College and Hospital with husband Sunil watching over her. Picture by Tamaghna Banerjee

Madhumita Halder, 40, was in excruciating pain and in danger of losing her leg but doctors at MR Bangur Hospital dressed her wound and referred her to SSKM Hospital.

At SSKM, the state’s apex referral hospital, the medical staff on duty reopened the bandage and put it back, saying they couldn’t admit her because no bed was available.

Calcutta Medical College and Hospital allegedly asked the family to bring her back the next morning.

Madhumita was finally operated on at 3am, almost 12 hours after the accident at Mahabirtala near New Alipore. Trauma specialists said the time lost could be the difference between saving her left leg and amputating it.

The West Bengal Clinical Establishments (Registration and Regulation) Act, 2010, states: “No person shall be denied, under any circumstances, including inability to pay the requisite fee or charges, such emergency life-saving medical treatment and critical care by the clinical establishment as may be prescribed.”

There is also a court verdict to go by. In 1996, the Supreme Court said: “Right to life includes right to receive proper medical facilities in a government hospital…. Any violation thereof would be treated as violation of… a fundamental right.”

Ruby General Hospital was fined Rs 10 lakh in 2005 for turning away a BTech student who later died.

The SSKM authorities on Thursday admitted that what some of their doctors did was terribly wrong.

Pradip Mitra, the director of the Institute of Post Graduate Medical Education and Research under which SSKM Hospital functions, said he was “shocked that such a critically injured patient was turned away”.

“For vascular surgery, SSKM is the best place in Calcutta. Even if there was no bed, they should have admitted the patient so that she could have been operated here,” Mitra said.

So would action be initiated against those who turned the woman away? “Definitely, but only if there’s a complaint,” Mitra said.

A senior official of Calcutta Medical College urged patients to lodge complaints. “Patients who face such behaviour from doctors should lodge complaints at every level so that the culprits can be taken to task.”

At MR Bangur, the authorities said they did their best under the circumstances. “Vascular surgery is not done at MR Bangur. So we quickly resuscitated her with a pressure bandage and referred her to a medical college,” superintendent Somnath Mukherjee said.

MR Bangur, in Tollygunge, is South 24-Parganas’ largest government hospital.

Surgeons say Madhumita is lucky to have survived the delay in treatment, though there is no guarantee yet that her wounded leg is safe.

“Time is crucial in such cases. Blood loss can lead to death at any moment,” vascular surgeon Jayanta Das said. “As blood supply to the affected limb gets cut off or becomes sparse because of heavy damage to the vessels, the cells inside begin to die and eventually there is no option but to amputate the leg. Also, the body will try to clot the blood, affecting blood supply to the limb.”

Madhumita’s accident occurred at 3.30pm and she was at SSKM by 5pm, only to lie allegedly unattended for an hour.

At Calcutta Medical College, where Madhumita was taken next, she didn’t have a bed until late on Thursday. Her surgery too started late.

“The ouctome of the surgery would obviously have been better if it were performed earlier,” said Mukul Bhattacharya of the medical college’s orthopaedic department. “We are doing some tests to see if all parts of the affected leg are getting blood. There is a 99 per cent chance that her leg is safe.”