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

Jalaja Devi, a nurse at the Ernakulam Government Medical College Hospital was suspended following an audio note in which she mentioned deaths of patients due to negligence.
Dr Najma
Dr Najma
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A few days ago, Jalaja Devi, the nursing officer at the Government Medical College Hospital (MCH), Kalamassery, sent a voice note asking the nurses in the hospital to be vigilant and careful while on duty. During the end of the 6 minute long audio note, Jalaja mentions that a COVID-19 patient named Harris who was on the ventilator had died because the oxygen tube had not been properly inserted. She also cautioned nurses that there were other incidents of negligence which had resulted in the death of patients, including instances where oxygen masks had not been placed properly. However, a probe which should have focused on whether patients had indeed lost their lives due to negligence has started with a suspension order for Jalaja.

After the audio went viral and Jalaja was suspended, neither the nurses association nor did other doctors or nurses come in support of the officer. Meanwhile a junior resident doctor named Najma Salim told the media that what Jalaja said was true and she wondered why action was taken against the officer. "We have many times reported about these issues. What the sister (Jalaja) said is true, but even her colleagues did not support her. Which is why I decided to speak up,” Najma told various channels.

57-year-old Harris, a resident of Thuruthi in Fort Kochi, died on July 21 due to COVID-19 complications. Mentioning him in the audio clip, Jalaja says that Haris was about to shift to a ward but died due to negligence. She adds that the nurses escaped scrutiny only because senior doctors let them off easily and acknowledging all their hard work till then.

After the clip was leaked, the Health Department said that Jalaja was maligning the good work done by the department for the last many months.

“When Harris died, the duty doctor had informed the higher authorities about this. But they said no need to make it a serious issue. If senior doctors had warned the nurses, their behaviour could have been corrected," Dr Najma told the media. She also said that it was not right to suspend Jalaja. She added that she was not scared of speaking out.

She also mentioned another female patient who was placed on the ventilator and the nursing department had forgot to switch the machine on. A third patient she said was in distress as the ventilator was not working, but she accused that the nurses at the nursing station did not move. 

The hospital’s version

In a press meet on Tuesday, the hospital said that the allegations being spread were a clear attempt to malign them. The hospital has been set aside to exclusively treat COVID-19 patients. 

“Harris was obese and had diabetes and other co-morbidities. He fought the virus for 25 days. Many people test negative, but their organs would have been impacted. Haris had Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome and had a heart attack and died,” Dr Fathauddeen, nodal officer, COVID-19 care told the media. He denied Jalaja’s claim that Haris died due to issues in the ventilator tube. “The oxygen supply from a ventilator can never reduce,” he insisted.

He also added that Jalaja was not posted in the ICU or in the COVID-19 care unit. She was a senior nursing officer who was monitoring activities.

When asked about Dr Najma’s allegation that the ventilator was not on for a woman patient, the nodal officer denied such a possibility.

On Monday, reacting to the audio, Health Minister K K Shailaja said that wrong accusations against government medical college hospitals were being highlighted. She said that if there were mistakes committed, the department would correct them, but she urged people not to spread rumours. She was speaking at a function in Thiruvananthapuram.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan meanwhile said that these are attempts to tarnish the government's success in fighting COVID-19. He added that a detailed probe will be done to find the origin of the audio clip.

Youth congress workers had protested outside the hospital over the issue. "It is shocking to hear that the cause of death of CK Harris at Ernakulam Medical College is purely negligence. What is even more shocking is that the nurse who revealed this was immediately suspended for telling the truth!" Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala tweeted on October 19.


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