The Calcutta High Court recently while dealing with a Writ Petition Appeal set aside the order of the West Bengal Clinical Establishment Regulatory Commission (WBCERC) which had directed the payment of compensation of Rs.20 lakh for negligence in the treatment of the deceased Dr. Shraddha Bhutra, who was denied medical care by multiple medical institutions, and directed the Commission to a re-adjudicate the issue.

The Single Judge Bench of Justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharyya observed that WBCERC adopted double standards by delving into the question of treatment protocol only in regard to the Petitioner's clinical establishment while ignoring the conduct of the other Clinical establishments. The High Court observed, "Hence, prima facie, it is arguable as to whether the BNWCCC was really the sole CE which was to take the entire blame for the sad demise of the patient."

Background: Dr. Shraddha Bhutra, the deceased, under the care of Dr. Supriya Khetan, on April 24, 2021, experienced mild chest pain and consulted Dr. Khetan, who reassured her of her well-being. However, later that evening, she experienced severe lower abdominal pain. Despite seeking help from Dr. Khetan, who recommended hospitalization, she allegedly declined to provide medication or visit. Subsequently, the patient was denied admission by Apollo Hospital due to its COVID-19 patient load.

Further, she was then taken to Bhagirathi Neotia Woman & Child Care Centre (BNWCCC), but admission was denied despite contacting Dr. Khetan. The family then proceeded to Belle Vue Hospital, where admission was reluctantly granted under pressure from media attention and police involvement but despite efforts by the attending medical staff at Belle Vue, the patient passed away.

The Petitioner, Bhagirathi Neotia Woman & Child Care Centre (BNWCCC), before the High Court submitted that no complaint was lodged against the Apollo Hospital although the Apollo Hospital shirked its duty as a clinical establishment as well. It was further submitted that even Belle Vue has been given a clean-chit, although a considerable delay was occasioned by the Belle Vue and the patient met her unfortunate demise in Belle Vue after having had to wait for a considerable period of time.

On the other hand, the Respondent argued that BNWCCC did not provide immediate and basic treatment to the patient, thereby failing to meet the obligations of the medical professionals.

The High Court after considering the merits of the matter noted that the deceased doctor was at first taken to the Apollo Hospital, which refused admission claiming that the Hospital was treating COVID-19 patients and it would be risky to admit a pregnant lady, secondly to BNWCCC hospital which refused admission by stating that they had talked to Dr. Khetan over phone but she had instructed not to admit the patient and at last to Belle Vue Hospital where the patient had to wait for around 45 minutes and was only allowed admission after Police intervention but until it was too late.

Keeping the aforementioned series of events, the High Court stated surprisingly, no complaint had been lodged against Apollo, although it was the first CE that refused admission to the patient and as such, the remaining chief players in the drama on the fateful night were BNWCCC and Belle Vue.

Accordingly, the High Court stated that "Belle Vue, it has been rightly argued, was given a clean-chit by the Commission despite several factors casting serious doubt on the role of Belle Vue as well. First, Belle Vue was the last CE which the patient was taken to and where she met her demise. However, the exemption of Belle Vue from the entire episode by the Commission cannot be sustained. Such exemption, in fact, is patently contrary to the report on which the Commission relied on for indicting the BNWCCC".

The Judge further stated that, "The petitioners are justified in arguing that whereas the Commission observed that it could not go into the question of treatment protocol with regard to Belle Vue, double standards were applied in as much as BNWCCC is concerned, due to the observation of the Commission that the latter did not extend proper medical care to the patient."

In the light of the above observation, the High Court set aside the compensation order and remanded the matter back for a re-adjudication, upon giving an opportunity to the parties to produce further evidence to substantiate their cases and for a fresh decision on the issue as to the compensation to be awarded against the BNWCCC and/or Belle Vue Clinic in the facts and circumstances of the case.

Cause Title: Park Hospitals and another v. West Bengal Clinical Establishment Regulatory Commission and Another

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