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Patient Obtaining Free Services in Govt Hospital Is Not a Consumer: NCDRC

In a significant ruling, the national consumer disputes redressal commission (NCDRC) says a patient obtaining free services from a government hospital is not a consumer. The bench also appreciated a gesture by the doctor to offer Rs2 lakh to the complainant on humanitarian grounds for the death of a newborn.

In an order passed last week, Dr SM Kantikar, presiding member of NCDRC, says, “It is pertinent to note that the community health centre (CHC) hospital is a government hospital providing free services and Dr Kirandeep Kaur was working as a government servant. Therefore, it was a ‘contract of service’ which Dr Kirandeep Kaur was rendering in CHC. Thus, the patient was not a consumer as defined under section 2(1)(d) of the consumer protection act. This view dovetails from the recent decision of the Supreme Court in Nivedita Singh vs Dr Asha Bharti. Therefore, the consumer complaint filed before the district forum is not maintainable.”

Even though no negligence was attributable to her, Dr Kirandeep Kaur volunteered to pay Rs2 lakh to Beant Kaur, the complainant, on humanitarian grounds for the death of the newborn. “I appreciate the humanitarian gesture of the petitioner (Dr Kirandeep Kaur) and allow to pay a total of Rs2 lakh to Beant Kaur after deducting the amount, if any, that has already been paid or deposited. This direction, in any case, shall not be construed as a precedent,” NCDRC says.

Beant Kaur was pregnant and, during the intervening night of 12 August 2011 and 13 August 2011, went to CHC hospital in Dhanula. Chhinderpal Kaur, the staff nurse at the Hospital, examined the patient and suspected gastritis. Beant Kaur’s labour pain further increased and meconium-stained discharge was noted.

As there was no facility for Cesarean delivery (C-section), Dr Kirandeep Kaur referred the patient to the Civil Hospital at Barnala to Dr Jasbir Singh Aulakh. Beant Kaur delivered a baby with meconium which subsequently died.

Beant Kaur, being aggrieved by the alleged negligence of Dr Kirandeep Kaur and Chhinderpal Kaur, filed a complaint before the district forum at Barnala, against the Punjab government, the chief medical officer (CMO) Dr Kirandeep Kaur, staff nurse Chhinderpal Kaur and Dr Jasbir Singh Aulakh.

Partly allowing the complaint against the Punjab government and Dr Kirandeep Kaur, the district forum directed them to pay Rs2 lakh jointly and severally as compensation to Beant Kaur.

Both the Punjab government and Dr Kirandeep Kaur filed an appeal before the state commission. However, the state commission upheld the order passed by the district forum.

Dr Kirandeep Kaur then filed a revision petition before NCDRC.

After hearing both sides and perusing medical records and documents, Dr Kantikar from NCDRC observed that it was full-term pregnancy. Beant Kaur approached Dr Kirandeep Kaur at midnight on 12th August and 13 August 2011 with acute abdominal pain. On the instructions of Dr Kirandeep Kaur, the staff nurse prescribed antacids, some lab tests were done outside and the patient was kept under observation.

The bench says Beant Kaur showed meconium-stained discharge; therefore, emergency caesarian delivery was needed. However, due to the strike of national rural health mission (NRHM) staff nurses at CHC, Dhanaula, the C-section was not performed. Therefore, Dr Kirandeep Kaur referred the patient to Dr Jasbir Singh Aulakh at Civil Hospital in Barnala in the early morning by ambulance. The C-section was performed on 13 August 2011 at 10am. The newborn was engulfed with meconium stain and died after a few hours.

“In my view, due to the strike of nurses, Dr Kirandeep Kaur was unable to perform a C-section and took a prompt decision to shift the patient at the civil hospital at Barnala. It was done in the best interest of the patient, which does not constitute medical negligence. It was neither deficiency nor failure of duty of care from Dr Kirandeep Kaur,” NCDRC says in the order.

While allowing the revision petition, the bench set aside orders passed by the district forum and state commission. (Revision Petition No1786 of 2017     Date: 3 April 2023) Source: moneylife.in