The junior doctor had said that there was clear laxity in the intensive care unit of the hospital where COVID-19 patients were treated.

Dr Najma speaking to mediaImage credit: Manorama News
news Controversy Wednesday, October 21, 2020 - 20:04

A few days ago, a nursing officer was suspended from the Kalamassery Medical College Hospital for saying that a patient named Harris had died because the nurses who attended to him did not attach his ventilator tubes properly. In an audio clip, she was also heard pointing out that there were many incidents where the oxygen masks and ventilator tubes were not inserted properly.

Following this a huge controversy kicked off and the nursing officer, Jalaja Devi, was suspended. The relatives of a few other patients also stepped in alleging that there was serious laxity on the part of the authorities. Relatives of another patient named Jameela alleged that there was negligence in her treatment.

That is when Dr Najma, the juniormost resident doctor who works at the hospital, stepped in and revealed that she too has noticed similar mistakes many times. However, on Tuesday a few senior officials held a press meet in which they denied the allegations. The hospital authorities claimed that Dr Najma was a contract staff member and has no role in the treatment of COVID-19 patients.

Speaking to TNM, Dr Najma said that her name is present in the duty chart and her signatures are there in patient files. She said that she was a contract staff member, similar to most of the staff in the hospital who work there on contract basis. She said that she did not have the courage to come out earlier.

“Those who said that I wasn’t present for duty should then explain who is that Dr Najma in those files. To my knowledge, there is no other Najma there,” she said. She said that she spoke up about the negligence sacrificing many things, just to bring about a change in the hospital and the college where she studied.

“Before I spoke to the media, I sent messages to the resident medical officer and superintendent saying that there was negligence. But they did not reply nor ask me anything about it,” she said.

She said that there were instances when she noticed that ventilator tubes were not connected properly on patients, or the ventilator was not switched on. “I have myself told the nurses many times to connect the tube properly. Oxygen masks were also not placed properly many times. We cannot ask them to do it all the time, so I used to do it whenever I go for rounds. Actually, we cannot ask the nurses and wait for it to be corrected, because patients will be struggling to breathe,” Dr Najma said.

She said that she was not present when Harris or Jameela died, but she had noticed such instances of carelessness. “When I checked once, Jameela’s ventilator was not switched on. Others who are on duty have also told me that these issues happen,” she said.

“We did inform the higher authorities earlier also about this. As a result, efforts were taken to solve this and more staff members were placed in the unit,” she said.

The doctor said that Jameela was suffering from severe pneumonia and that was not connected to the laxity. “As authorities said, Jameela had severe pneumonia. I can’t say whether she would have survived if the tube was connected. But this is a serious problem. Even in the case of Harris, though he may have died of heart attack, it is true that his ventilator tubes were not attached. One of the doctors who was there at the time of his death told me this. When I met Harris, he was not in any condition to be shifted to a ward. His condition was severe, I agree, but it was our duty to provide him support,” she said.

Dr Najma said that she had come across instances where patients might have lost their lives if she hadn’t noticed the negligence. “Then I complained to the nursing superintendent and deputy RMO. Necessary actions were taken, so I didn’t go to the higher authorities. But now I feel that I should have given a detailed written complaint to all of them,” she said.

She said that many of her colleagues are supporting her though they haven’t spoken up publicly. “I don’t want to drag them into this. I did ask them whether they can speak out. But they’re scared because like me they will also be singled out,” she added.

Meanwhile, there were allegations from the relatives of another patient named Baihakh that he had sought money from them to give as a bribe in the hospital. In a voice note he sent to his brother, he said that if they give Rs 40,000 at the hospital the patient would receive good care. But Dr Najma denied the allegation.

“I haven’t noticed any such practice at the hospital. The only problem I noticed was this laxity in placing oxygen masks properly and mistakes in connecting ventilator tubes. For COVID-19 patients, that is the biggest negligence,” she added.

She said that by revealing all this, she was doing her duty so that her college (Kalamassery Medical College Hospital) can become a better institution.

“This morning a police officer called me and sought some details about me and my politics. He did not reveal any details but just enquired about me. Other than that, I haven’t received any calls from authorities,” she said.

Meanwhile, there are reports that the Directorate of Medical Education (DME) has rejected the report from the hospital superintendent which stated that there was no negligence at the hospital. The DME reportedly asked the hospital authorities to submit a detailed report, hinting at flaws in the hospital.

Read: ‘She was right, there was medical negligence’, Kerala doc backs nurse over audio note

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