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Medical negligence, Gorakhpur just the tip of the iceberg?

The Gorakhpur tragedy — in which over 70 children died in the space of a few short days — has been the focal point of Indian media for weeks. Investigations into the incident, as well similar events, may reveal that Gorakhpur was simply the tip of the iceberg.

Copyright: niyazz / 123RF Stock PhotoMany other similar incidents have occurred. As covered by a previous Health Issues India (HII) article, the subsequent incidents involving child deaths have seemed small scale when compared to the 70+ that died in Gorakhpur. However, as time goes by, many more incidents have been uncovered, with far higher death tolls.

Linking all of these events are accusations of negligence, either by doctors or hospital staff.Some incidents have led to arrests and suspensions of doctors and staff. This has raised the question: is there a pervasive attitude of negligence in the Indian healthcare system, or are other factors contributing to the incidents?

Accusations of negligence are widespread and it would be incorrect to say that all of these are unfounded. A video posted online has gained a huge amount of publicity,  later going viral, showing doctors acting in a highly unprofessional manner.  In the video, the doctors are seen throwing insults at each other and arguing while performing surgery on a pregnant patient.

In an incident reminiscent of Gorakhpur, a state-run hospital in Banswara district in Rajasthan saw 86 newborns die in the space of two months. It is alleged that 37 of these deaths were due to the carelessness of doctors.

A committee has been set up to investigate the incident. Three doctors, including a principal medical officer and four nurses, have been suspended due to the incident. It is unclear at the time of writing whether criminal charges are to be filed against them.

Poor management has also been held responsible following the deaths of 30 infants at the Ram Manohar Lohia hospital in Uttar Pradesh. A police investigation is currently underway as it is claimed the deaths were due to perinatal asphyxia. The hospital had inadequate supplies of medical oxygen due to unpaid bills. Failure to pay bills for oxygen was cited as a contributing factor in the Gorakhpur case.  In this incident, negligence may not be the cause.

Inability of the hospital to pay the bills for medical oxygen is now becoming a common issue. This may indicate that state hospitals are receiving inadequate funding. Tax rates for medical oxygen have risen. If funding already is inadequate, medical oxygen becoming more expensive will only exacerbate the problem. Negligence may play a role in many of the deaths. However, when consistent trends such as that of unpaid bills appear in many reports, it may indicate deeper issues of a drastically underfunded medical system.

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