This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Oishi Banerjee. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Using The Term ‘Medical Negligence’ Loosely Is A Disservice To Our Doctors

It is rather human to blame everyone but themselves for even the most minute wrong that has altered the desired results.

We reside in a society leaning towards alternative medicine such as Ayurveda, naturopathy, homoeopathy, etc, therefore making it even more difficult for us to not only decipher modern medicine but most importantly, to trust in it.

Our human-self constantly demands results and does not value the needed time to show them the results especially in the case of allopathic medicine. For example, we have paracetamol with an expectation that we will see its effects in a given period of time. But what we forget is that our bodies react differently and take different time frames to heal. If sometimes we experience the side effects of a medicine, we brand it ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’, not realising how our bodies function differently. When we must take time out and seek advice to understand the event, we instead jump to label that alteration ‘waste’ or ‘useless’.

But, recent times have shown a dramatic change of mindset and our society accepting medical science as a forefront treatment for this disastrous flu and the importance of medical professionals is now well understood. Yet, there have been plenty of situations where the kin held doctors responsible for the death of patients. They term it “negligence“.

It is important for us to notice the hardships faced by the doctors of this country and not pounce on them for what we (a common man) think is wrong, especially in such difficult times/ Representational image.

Before Casually Throwing ‘Medical Negligence’ As An Allegation, Let’s Understand What It Really Means

The term ‘medical negligence’ is an omnibus one, which has come in vogue to refer to wrongful actions or omissions of professionals in the field of medicine, in pursuit of their profession, while dealing with patients. It is not a term defined or referred to anywhere in any of the enacted Indian laws. Instead of the thorny issues, this piece intends to be informative for easier understanding of what this loosely used term ‘medical negligence’ means to the common man and why we should pause its usage. It is important for us to notice the hardships faced by the doctors of this country and not pounce on them for what we (a common man) think is wrong, especially in such difficult times.

Recalling the Kasturba Hospital incident, wherein the media displayed appalling images of a passed patient’s body lying next to other patients attracted a lot of rage and the medical staff were titled negligent. However, what the media denied to show was the fact that the patient’s kin refused to take the body, the morgue was overflowing, and that the crematoriums were overcrowded. Thus, was it right for us to yet again loosely use the term negligence and blame doctors?

Another incident in a private hospital in Kolkata 2 years ago, wherein the death of a patient saw outrage from his community and the hospital was severely damaged, the security of fellow occupants compromised and the kin sought political help to further this activity. There are so many examples of such acts which take place regularly, yet there aren’t any existing laws to protect doctors and health facilities from such mishaps. So, the government authorities over here stand negligent towards the security of doctors.

During this entire pandemic, my countrymen forgot to question the government’s liability to ensure health infrastructure for us. Building a statue seemed a more appropriate expenditure of taxpayers money than to invest in healthcare. We forgot that when in need, 80% of our population will seek help from government hospitals. Our media houses too boasted about how pathetic hospitals are doing, not acknowledging the fact that doctors are overworked and underpaid. They have to make do with minimal infrastructure and provide the best possible care. That they are going down in numbers because they are susceptible to the infection due to close proximity. Are we still going to call them negligent?

Representational image.

Shifting The Burden Of Responsibilities Is Becoming Our Favourite Game

Government hospitals, unlike government offices, are poorly maintained. Limited manpower and budget make it all the more difficult for them to function. It’s not an unusual sight where patients are overflowing, they are lying on the floor; sick, due to unavailability of beds. Ceiling leaks, terrible food, the unbearable odour is rather common.

A common being, able enough to have options between choosing his desired healthcare, would never set foot in a government hospital. We would approach private healthcare. And despite that, we would rant about its expense. Can we be blamed? Maybe not.

When healthcare is privatised, it automatically becomes a business where the sole motive would be profit. We cannot approach a private hospital and ask for capped prices. It is the responsibility of the government to mandate proper regulations and to balance the private healthcare industry.

Getting back to negligence: Let us understand this better through a relatable situation. My uncle has been admitted to a private hospital for a fairly basic surgery. For eg, removal of the appendix. All goes well and suddenly he begins to deteriorate and is put on life support and eventually dies. We are angry and confused as to how could such a simple surgery possibly go wrong. But what we need to discern is that everybody is different. Every patient reacts differently.

Our common comprehension cannot fathom the nuances of medicine. And therefore we react, we misbehave, we sue for negligence. The consequence of such acts does not only question the doctor’s future but also sets a wrong precedent.

Of course, there exist genuine cases of what we understand by medical negligence which is investigated by experts, but those cases are less than the falsely accused ones. We end up bullying our doctors, we end up ransacking hospitals, we end up physically assaulting them. We become inhuman. We think we understand medicine better than them. We so often self diagnose and end up seeking medical help when it’s too late. Are we to blame them every time our body let us down? Are we going to assault them every time there is a death? Why will doctors stay back in the country to help us when they can earn and serve better elsewhere? A doctor with his due diligence and application of his medical knowledge decides what is best for the patient. Even if the removal of an organ is necessary during surgery, he may do so to save the patient’s life.

Learn Better, Do Better, Question Better

Negligence is a lack of care. The guidelines pertaining to the standard of care differ depending on available resources. Errors of judgment do not necessarily imply negligence. If the most basic care is denied, only then can we claim negligence? Some examples of medical negligence are as follows:

  1. Persons not qualified in general or a certain branch of medicine yet embarking upon a treatment course in that field has been held to be negligent.
  2. Not taking care of a premature baby who is given supplemental oxygen and blood transfusion for prevention of a disease called retinopathy of prematurity (which such premature children are highly prone to and which makes them blind progressively), and not seeking views of a pediatric ophthalmologist, has been held to be an incidence of negligence.
  3. Instances of senior doctor deciding to do a surgery but actually taking up another surgery at the same time and leaving the patient to the care of a junior doctor, who is not incompetent but has no experience as such (even if such junior doctor performs the surgery without mistakes) have also led to the finding of medical negligence.

Therefore, it is almost impossible for a layman to have an idea about what truly constitutes negligence. As citizens, it is our responsibility to demand not just basic but regulated health care from our government. We should not feel the need to approach a private system. England’s NHS is a prime example of how government regulated free healthcare works best for its public. We also need to behave responsibly and with respect to our healthcare providers.

But most importantly, we must educate ourselves and others around us that not every setback in our health is because of a doctors’ approach. We cannot demand the best care with the least possible expenditure; not yet. Our typical Indian mindset of ‘we know everything and we know it better’ needs an immediate change, and that change needs to happen now.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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