Hospitals must pay heed to hygiene
Pushpa Girimaji

Imagine conducting eye surgeries in operation theatres that are not fumigated. Worse, using instruments, cotton pads and linen which are not even sterilised. The very thought makes one shudder at the consequences. But that was how surgeries were conducted at Dr Mohan Lal Memorial Gandhi Eye Hospital in Aligarh. Given the conditions in which the operations were done, it was a miracle that out of 52 patients, only 14 lost their sight.

Of the 14, one of them, Sarwat Ali Khan, filed a complaint before the consumer court, seeking compensation. In order to decide the case, the apex court looked at two inquiry reports—-one constituted by the hospital and the other by the district magistrate, Aligarh.

Both had come down heavily on the hospital for the unhygienic conditions in which the surgeries were conducted. Establishing beyond doubt the negligence of the hospital, the report revealed that out of the 52 simple cataract operations performed recently, 14 persons had lost their vision.

The first report, for example, said : "On carefully inspecting the new operation theatre, it was found that the two autoclaves used in the operation theatre were not working properly. It must be emphasised that this vital equipment is an absolute necessity to carry out sterilisation of instruments, cotton, pads, linen, etc. This is the most important and basic requirement to prevent infection. Defective functioning of the aforesaid equipment was neither noticed nor reported.’’

The second inquiry committee’s report was even more damning and blamed inadequate and improper sterilisation of instruments, improper fumigation of the operation theatre and posting of untrained staff in the OT for the infection that ensued.

Said the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission in its order: ’’The inquiry reports leave no doubt that there was deficiency in service on the part of the hospital and the staff in not maintaining the autoclave equipment and other materials which were used before and after the operation".

Sarwat Ali Khan’s case makes sad reading. He consulted Dr R. Gogi at the OPD of Dr Mohan Lal Memorial Gandhi Hospital for his decreasing vision in both the eyes. Dr Gogi performed the surgery on the right eye and asked him to come for a check-up the next day. Even though the next day he informed the doctor that there was pain in his operated eye and he also suffered from a severe headache and could not sleep, Dr Gogi apparently did not pay any heed and said it would go away. The complainant went back the next day, and this time Dr Gogi was not there, but another doctor, Dr Amitava, who examined him, found that his eye was infected. He then conducted another operation on him. Thereafter, Khan lost his vision completely in his right eye. Upset and angry, he filed a complaint before the court, seeking a compensation of Rs 30 lakh.

Condemning the hospital for its recklessness in treating patients in unhygienic conditions, the apex court regretted that despite several orders of the Supreme Court highlighting the need for maintaining the highest standards of hygiene, health service providers continued to provide poor service, thereby putting the life and limbs of the patients at risk."

Observed the commission :"We hope that the Indian Medical Council as well as the Health Departments would take appropriate steps in improving the standards and maintenance of cleanliness and hygiene in public and private hospitals so that damage may not be caused either to the life or limb of any patient.’’