The surgical mop that was left inside the patient's (right) stomach
BJ Medical College and Sassoon Hospital, Pune, has formed a three-member panel to probe the death of a patient last month following a botched surgery. mid-day had on April 8 exposed how a surgical mop left in the abdomen of a 37-year-old patient, during surgery led to septicaemia and caused his death days later.
The hospital's forensic department had found the mop, measuring 8 inch by 6 inch, during the post-mortem examination and attributed the cause of death to it. Instead of booking the doctors for negligence, the Khadki police, which had registered a case in the stabbing attack, changed the case against assailant from assault to murder.
Top docs to probe
Hospital sources said a panel of three doctors - Dr D B Kadam, professor and head of the department of general medicine, Dr R A Bhosale, professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and Dr RB Chavan, professor and head of skin and venereal diseases - was formed earlier this week to conduct an internal inquiry.
They said the committee has already begun recording the statements of hospital/ medical college staff who were part of the surgical team. The committee is also keen on finding out who provided the media with the photographs of the mop.
Dr Ajay S Chandanwale, dean of BJ Medical College and Sassoon Hospital, confirmed the formation of an internal inquiry team.
"Once the committee submits its report, a copy of it will be send to the office of the Directorate of Medical Education and Research, Maharashtra," he said.
Dr SB Punpale, professor and head of the department of forensic medicine and toxicology, which conducted the autopsy, stood by his team.
"Forensic surgeons have clearly stated that death was caused by septicaemia ('septicaemia in a operated case of stab injury, with evidence of surgical mop inside abdomen' was the stated reason for death), and I stand by the findings," he said.
"The dean reserves his right to appoint anyone for an internal inquiry. As the inquiry is underway, I won't be able to say anything more at this stage," he added.
Eyewash, say experts
But, a senior forensic surgeon from Mumbai questioned the formation of such a committee, rather than roping in external experts for an unbiased opinion. "An inquiry should be conducted by persons who are not associated with the institution. In this case, the doctors on the panel must know their peers on the surgical team, and may even be on good terms with them."
Senior criminal lawyer Dinesh Tiwari dubbed the inquiry an eyewash. "The interest of such internal committees lies in shielding their doctors. Besides, seeking information on how the media got its hands on the photographs of the mop is nothing more than a pressure tactic. Postmortem examination centers are not prohibited areas," he said.
He felt that the panel was formed only because of the media spotlight. "Else, such incidents of negligence are brushed under the carpet."
A medico-legal expert of Grant Medical College, Nagpada, pointed out that if details of the mop were not mentioned in the surgical notes, then the hospital should be held accountable for contributory negligence.
"Apart from the surgeon, even the head nurse in charge of the operation theatre, is supposed to count and record for all mops used during a surgical procedure. Any difference has to be immediately brought to the notice of the surgeon."
Cops seek explanation
LM Borate, senior inspector of Khadki police station, who is supervising the case investigation, said a letter has been sent to the surgeons concerned of Sassoon Hospital, seeking a written explanation and documents related to the operation. "Once we get the explanation, we will submit it before the medical board, and even consult our superiors and the legal department seeking advice on future course of action."
Have seen only 2 such cases so far: DMER chief
Dr Praveen Shingare, director, Directorate of Medical Education and Research, he has so far come across only two cases in his entire career of foreign objects being left in a patient.
"The first case was at a Mumbai hospital 20 years ago. The second was again in Mumbai 10 years ago. A scissor was then left behind in the abdomen. Luckily, in both cases, the patients' lives were saved. Appropriate actions were taken against the doctors concerned after inquiries found them guilty."
In the case of Sassoon Hospital, he said he would wait for the internal inquiry committee's before deciding on the next course of action.
8 inches: Length of the surgical mop left behind in the patient's abdomen