New Delhi, Apr 10: The Supreme Court on Sunday has absolved Dr Jayshree Ingole, a doctor from Maharashtra, of the charge of medical negligence after 20 years of an incident in which a road accident victim succumbed to injuries at a hospital.
The apex court relied on its earlier verdict to say that in cases where negligence is alleged against professionals like doctors the court should be careful before instituting criminal proceedings.
The court said it has been held that “it is not possible for any doctor to assure or guarantee that the result of treatment would invariably be positive and the only assurance which a professional can give is that he is professionally competent, has requisite skill and has undertaken the task entrusted to him with reasonable care”.
Referring to the earlier judgment, a bench of Justices M B Lokur and Deepak Gupta set aside the order of Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court by which criminal proceedings were initiated against the doctor who was a surgeon on call at a hospital where the victim was admitted.
“Applying the law laid down in a case, we are of the view that this is not a case where the appellant should face trial especially when 20 years have already elapsed,” it said.
The doctor on August 29, 1997, when called to the Irvin Hospital, Amravati to attend to Shrikrishna Gawai, the victim, had examined him and made a note that a physician be called after finding the patient suffering from abdominal pain.
Dr. Mohod, the Emergency Medical Officer at the same hospital, attended upon Gawai on Spetember 5, 1997 at 9.00 p.m. and found that he was suffering from abdominal pain. He thereafter called Dr. Ingole, who was the Surgeon on Call. The Supreme Court states that, “it is not disputed that the appellant (Ingole) went to the Hospital on being called. She attended upon the deceased and made a note that a Physician be called.”
However, Dr. Ingole did not wait on the patient until the physician to arrive, and left the office, even though when the patient was suffering from Haemophilia, a condition that affects the blood’s ability to clot. As a result the victim died the very next day and the physician she had called never turned up. This is the main allegation against Dr Ingole.
A complaint was subsequently lodged in the police station by the brother of Gawai, wherein it was alleged that he died as a result of negligence of the three doctors of hospital, which include Dr. Dhirendra Wagh, and Dr. Manohar Mohod, both of whom attended the patient on various dates along with Dr. Ingole.
In a separate departmental inquiry, three doctors were held negligent in performing their duties and one was debarred annual increment as penalty; the surgeon was permanently prohibited from entering Irvin Hospital, Amravati, and third doctor was transferred.
The apex court, while allowing the appeal, said the only allegation against the appellant (surgeon) is that she left the patient but being a surgeon on call, she came to the hospital when she was called and examined the patient.
“As per her judgment, she could find no evidence of bleeding or injury and, therefore, she had noted that a physician be called. Thereafter, she left the hospital at about 11 PM. True it is that she did not wait for physician to come, but it can be assumed that she would have expected that the physician would come soon,” the bench said.
“This may be an error in judgment but is definitely not a rash and negligent act contemplated under section 304-A of IPC. It is nobody’s case that she was called again by the nursing staff on duty. If the condition of the patient had worsened between 11 PM and 5 AM, the next morning, the nursing staff could have again called for the appellant, but they did not do so,” it said.
The bench said, “In the facts and circumstance of this case, it cannot be said that the appellant is guilty of criminal negligence. At best it is an error of judgment”.