New Delhi: Taking a tough stand against medical negligence, the apex consumer court has slapped a Rs 50,000 penalty on the Delhi-based Fortis Escorts Heart Institute for an infected blood transfusion that left a patient afflicted with Hepatitis B within weeks of undergoing a bypass surgery in 1995.
"There is clear nexus between the blood transfusion on Harbans Kaur Chawla during the course of her cardiac surgery at the institute and her contracting Hepatitis B 60 days later," National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission president Ashok Bhan and member Vineeta Rai said in a recent ruling.
"Perhaps, there is a case for hospitals like Escorts Institute, which conduct major surgeries, to seriously consider whether the ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) test could be replaced by a more reliable (screening) test," it said.
The bench concluded that there was a link between 69-year-old Chawla`s infection and the surgery at Escorts hospital as "she had not undergone any other blood transfusion except at the institute".
A report from PGI Hospital, Chandigarh, where Chawla went for consultation, confirmed this fact in writing, said the commission.
For Chawla and her kin, justice has finally been done - even if it took 17 years and the final compensation amount was a fraction of over Rs.6 lakh that she sought.
The hospital, now known as Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, has the option of moving the Supreme Court for relief against the order of the consumer commission, which has given it time till the first week of November to pay the Rs 50,000 compensation to Chawla.
VR Gupta, the medical superintendent of the institute, told a news agency: "When the commission`s order comes to us, we will see."
Chawla underwent a bypass surgery at Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre on January 30, 1995, during which four units of blood from the hospital`s blood bank were transfused into her.
By March 1995, it was noted that she had lost her appetite, could not take food and had developed fever along with drowsiness and giddiness.
She contacted Doctor BS Bhatia at PGI Hospital, Chandigarh. After conducting a series of tests March 30, 1995, he informed her that she had contracted Hepatitis B infection due to transfusion of blood at the time of surgery.
A shocked Chawla underwent treatment for a damaged liver and faulty renal function but could not fully recover from the side effects of Hepatitis B.
She then decided to approach the courts and filed a complaint before the Delhi State Consumer Commission on the grounds of medical negligence and deficiency in service.
She sought a refund of Rs 165,250 spent on the bypass surgery and Rs 25,000 towards expenses incurred for treatment at PGI Hospital, Chandigarh, as well as Rs 5 lakh, along with interest, towards permanent disability.
The state consumer commission backed her and said since PGI Hospital was a government institute and not a competitor of the Escorts Institute, there was no room for doubting the authenticity of the diagnosis by the doctors of the Chandigarh hospital.
It directed Escorts Institute to pay Chawla a compensation of Rs 50,000 and said that the doctors who conducted the bypass surgery could not be held guilty of negligence and deficiency in service since it was the technicians in the blood bank who were lax.
Escorts challenged the ruling and approached the National Consumer Commission. The hospital claimed that in Chawla`s case, the four donors whose blood was given to her had no history of Hepatitis B or AIDS and the blood donated by them was screened through the ELISA test.
"So far as the present case is concerned, we note that the state commission has taken into account the fact that reasonable, if not foolproof, precautions were taken in screening the blood and, therefore, it awarded a compensation of only Rs 50,000 against the amount of Rs 6.95 lakh claimed by Chawla," said the apex consumer commission.
"We agree with the findings of the state commission that keeping in view the facts of the case in their totality, a compensation of Rs 50,000 is reasonable and justified in the instant case," said commission president Bhan and member Rai, while rejecting Escorts hospital`s plea against the state panel`s verdict.