Disclaimer: This article is based on the first-person account of the author.
Hold Citizens Speciality hospital and all the responsible authorities culpable for criminal medical negligence resulting in the death of Surya Pratap Bharti!
On August 17, 2020, Surya Pratap Bharati, a 30-year-old PhD scholar from the Department of English, University of Hyderabad, after having suffered an acute ischemic stroke, was rushed by his friends to the ‘Citizens Speciality Hospital’ as referred by the University Health Centre.
At the time when he was taken, he retained mild cognitive abilities, that of speech, recognition and other motor functions, even though the left side of this body was paralyzed.
Once Surya was admitted to Citizens, the presiding doctor recommended an immediate cerebral surgery after running the diagnosis and tests. Subsequently, all was done and all arrangements were made in accordance with the instructions and demands of the hospital. A Rapid antigen test was run by Citizens hospital in which Surya was tested COVID-19 negative. However, the following day the hospital refused to operate without running a full COVID-19 RTPCR Test.
Thus, on August 18, the sample for RTPCR test was collected. In the duration of the next 24 hours that followed, Surya was kept in the Isolation Ward and his friends/points of contact were kept in the dark about the treatment and the prognosis and were not even allowed to visit him. Finally, the next day, that is, the August 19, Citizens Speciality hospital declared that Surya had tested positive for the Novel Corona Pathogen and consequently denied any further treatment.
A bill of 56 thousand INR was presented by the hospital on the first account, however, they later kept haggling for 86 thousand INR, as Surya seemingly did not qualify the terms and conditions of the insurance (according to the insurance claim desk at Citizens). Precious time was wasted in this commotion, time that was of critical importance. In the meanwhile, an anxious friend who had slipped into the Isolation ward found Surya convulsing and immediately informed the doctors.
By this time Surya’s cognitive functions had taken a hit, his overall health condition deteriorated insomuch that he had to be put on ventilator support, for 2 hours of which the total bill was rounded off to around 1.57 lakhs INR as opposed to the previously mentioned 1.12 lakhs INR. Ruckus followed over the exorbitant and capricious billing.
The hospital reception maintained that since Surya is not enrolled, (despite still being a registered student in the university) hence the 40% rise in the total payable and only after a lot of deliberation did Citizens Speciality reception settle for the previously agreed 1.12 lakhs INR.
Arrangements were made and Surya was immediately shifted to the Continental Hospital, where the doctors told his friends and family that Surya had only a very slim chance of survival since the damage was irreversible. In the next several hours that followed, he developed edema and multiple organ failures. Finally at 9:30 A.M, on August 20, 2020, Surya was declared brain dead before succumbing to his ischemic clots on August 21, 2020 at 4:11 PM.
Was it not the negligence and criminal dereliction of duty on the part of Citizens Speciality Hospital that led to the tragic end of an inspiring life that held out hope to many?
His points of contact who were rather wary of the result of the COVID-19 test run at Citizens had already applied for an RTPCR test at Continental and the test results showed the Surya had not contracted the virus. Moreover, a third RTPCR test, to reassess the previous RTPCR, confirmed that Surya was COVID-19 negative. Lest there be any room left for doubt over Surya’s test results at Citizens Speciality Hospital, another Antibody (IgA, IgG, IgM) test from Continental Hospital detected Surya non-reactive effectively corroborating he could not have contracted the C19 virus anytime in the past week.
This establishes beyond doubt the criminal magnitude of the negligence and recklessness on part of citizens hospital that cost Surya his life.
Also, the erroneous result of the RTPCR test conducted by Citizens Hospital, wherein Surya had tested COVID-19 positive, created considerable panic and concern among his attendants, friends and family.
“Since Citizens Hospital already had a protocol regarding the non-admittance of COVID-19 patients and since they also knew that Surya’s case was an emergency and that he was in a critical condition that needed immediate surgery, they shouldn’t have admitted Surya, in the first place and asked him to be taken to a different hospital”, said Faizan, a PhD scholar from MANU, an AISA activist and a close friend to Surya.
He also added, “However Citizens recklessly went ahead and admitted him and kept him in their facility for over 24 hours without any proper treatment, which proved fatal for my friend. The Hospital had kept us in the dark regarding both their protocols and the treatment.” Such negligence, apathy and sheer unprofessionalism are a shameless violation of societal protocols and the Hippocratic Oath that binds all healthcare workers.
Coming from a marginalized (Dalit) section of the society, Surya was a first-generation learner and braved many odds to carve his place in academia. Surya was an eminent scholar and a substantial presence in various student movements for social justice. His parents who are daily wage labourers and a brother, a migrant labourer in Mumbai harboured high hopes on him and his bright future could have been a ministration for the rehabilitation of his community and class.
Should such negligence to liability, tantamount to murder, go unpunished it would be a blemish on the democratic machinery of the country? His friends and family have demanded a fair, independent and thorough investigation into the issue.
The tragic demise of Surya Pratap Bharti could have been avoided with adequate medical intervention and proactive response by the hospital authorities. Citizens Speciality hospital’s criminal negligence apart, Surya’s case foregrounds the consequences of the lack of quality and affordable public health care system. With the government investment in public health less than 1.5% of the GDP, the state of public health care in India, is abysmal, to say the least.
The pandemic has further clearly shown how unaffordable and alienating the health care system in India is for the disadvantaged and marginalized sections of the society. In a landmark Supreme Court judgement, Paschim Bangal Khet Mazdoor Samity vs State of West Bengal (1996), the Supreme Court upheld the right of any seriously ill to get hospitalization for life-saving medical aid at any government hospital.
However, the grim reality of Indian public healthcare system is such that it is grossly understaffed and operates with deplorable technological and logistical infrastructure and medical equipment. Although Article 21 ensures the right to life, problems persist, one, of the fact that it only applies to government healthcare facilities, which often prove counterproductive in emergency medicare.
It is shameful that we do not have any systematically enforced mechanism to provide affordable health care to the most socio-economically disadvantaged sections of our society and that a scholar, who had bravely crossed so many social and economic barriers to pursue a doctorate from one of the country’s finest institutions with a scholarship had to fall prey to the criminal medical negligence of a private hospital.
Besides, most private hospitals charge arbitrarily since the states do not practice standing authority to standardize medical prices and rates. It is as if indifference has been institutionalized.
The government’s policy of manic privatisation across all sectors, disastrous as they are, in the education and public health sector, in particular, would toll the death knell for social justice in our society. This tragedy is a case in point.