Don't turn a blind eye to negligence

At least 14 people were blinded in one eye after botched cataract surgeries at a district hospital in Washim, around 450 km east of Mumbai. Even as this was being written, reports were coming in of doctors at JJ Hospital trying to prevent the loss of vision becoming permanent.

If there is even a sliver of hope in this story, it is that sight was restored to at least four patients after surgery in Mumbai. This is, unfortunately, a familiar story in several such medical ‘camps’ conducted across the country. While it may not be true of every such initiative, there are numerous instances of poor hygiene, botched procedures and shoddy follow-ups when it comes to operations.

Unlike earlier incidents though, which had made headlines only to disappear off the radar later, one hopes the investigation committee formed to look into this debacle will have some solid findings about what exactly went wrong in what is essentially a low-risk procedure. Health Minister Deepak Sawant cited sheer negligence as the cause, and some suspensions have taken place since. Yet, the issue needs deeper analysis, rather than a knee-jerk reaction and a band-aid solution.

There is need to improve sterilisation and hygiene at these healthcare facilities. Surgeons must be aided by staffers who can close the gap between doctor and patient and assist in post-operative care too.

Most importantly, one has to see whether medical facilities are being overstretched, and whether doctors are doing more surgeries than advisable. This could result in the doctor rushing through procedures, or committing errors because of overwork. It may not be what happened this time, but it has happened in the past. Last year, at least 15 women had died after a sterilization procedure went tragically wrong in Chhattisgarh. Reports had stated that the doctors were racing to meet surgery targets.

This incident should now serve as a wake-up call to the government and the medical fraternity. It is unacceptable if we learn nothing from past mistakes and allow such negligence to continue.

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