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The Indian doctor struck off by a UK high court

London High Court, image credit: 123rf
The London high court where Dr Pantula Sastry was held to account for medical negligence in India – one which led to a patient’s death

A British high court has upheld a decision made last year to bar an Indian doctor from practising in the UK for alleged medical malpractice while he was working in Mumbai.

Dr Pantula Sastry was held to account by the London High Court for his role in the death of a lymphoma sufferer in July 2014. Sastry treated 55-year-old Sushma Agarwal at the Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital in Versova. Ms Agarwal’s family alleged that treatment administered by Sastry resulted in her death.

Sastry elected to treat Ms Agarwal with a form of high-dose BEAM chemotherapy commonly used in the treatment of lymphoma, followed by an autologous cell transplant. The aim of the chemotherapy was to kill quickly dividing cells, including cancerous lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are white blood cells which normally fight infection but can result in lymphoma developing if they grow out of control.

During the course of the BEAM chemotherapy, the blood-producing cells in the bone marrow are also killed. This is why patients treated with BEAM also undergo an autologous cell transplant. This replaces lost stem cells and can help repair the bone marrow and allow it to produce new blood cells.

“Ahead of time, her test results suggesting she would not survive the treatment. Sastry nevertheless proceeded.”

Ms Agarwal, however, suffered from an extremely low CD34 stem cell count which prevented her bone marrow from repairing. Ahead of time, her test results suggested she would not survive the treatment. Sastry nevertheless proceeded. Ms Agarwal died on July 10th, after she suffered complications following the failed transplant.

In the aftermath, Ms Agarwal’s family approached the Maharashtra Medical Council (MMC) to seek justice. However, in October 2014, Sastry had left India to work in the UK, having previously worked there between 1997 and 1998 and again from 2006 to 2008. As a consequence, the Maharashtra Medical Council (MMC) declined to pursue a case against him, arguing that his relocation to the UK effectively left the matter out of their hands.

“The MTPS came down hard on Sastry’s conduct…[stating] that “a reasonable and well-informed member of the public would find it unacceptable and disgraceful”

Ms Agarwal’s son subsequently approached the General Medical Council. This resulted in hearings being held by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS), which investigates complaints against doctors and makes decisions whether they are fit to continue to practise medicine. Even though the case occurred in India, it could be heard in the UK given its relevance to a doctor practising in the country.

The MTPS came down hard on Sastry’s conduct, holding him responsible for the decision of Ms Agarwal and barring him from practising medicine in the UK. In its decision, the MTPS stated that “a reasonable and well-informed member of the public would find it unacceptable and disgraceful that a doctor proceeded with high dose chemotherapy with BEAM in the knowledge that there were not sufficient CD34 stem cells available to enable that patient to recover.”

The MTPS further castigated the doctor for “an extremely serious failure” in his conduct when treating Ms Agarwal, which they said was “far below the standards of expected of a doctor.”

Sastry approached the London High Court in an effort to have the decision overturned, but to no avail. Now unable to practise medicine in the UK, justice has been delivered for the family of Ms Agarwal – not by an Indian body, but an international one. Should Sastry return to India, one wonders whether he will face a similar reckoning.

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