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HomeNegligence casesNCDRC upholds compensation as doctor ignores early indication of cancer

NCDRC upholds compensation as doctor ignores early indication of cancer

New Delhi: The National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission (NCDRC) while upholding the verdict of District Consumer Forum, Rajahmundry held the Andhra doctor negligent of delay in diagnosing breast cancer and decided that Rs. 6 Lakh compensation awarded by the district consumer forum was appropriate. The fact of the case is that the deceased patient, a housewife, experienced pain in her right breast. Seeking treatment, she consulted the Petitioner doctor, who, after clinical examination, prescribed medication and advised her to undergo a pathological test for diagnosis. Following the prescribed course, she underwent a mammography test at Sree C.T. Scanning Centre. Despite subsequent medication, the pain persisted, leading the doctor to recommend surgery to remove the lump in the right breast. Consequently, the patient underwent surgery to remove the lump, with a piece sent for biopsy to Neo Diagnostic Centre, Rajahmundry. Post-surgery, she followed the doctor’s instructions for care. However, as the pain persisted, she sought further consultation at G.S.L. Cancer Hospital, as per the reference of the doctor. The biopsy report revealed infiltrative duct cell carcinoma, with the tumor deemed inoperable due to its growth. Subsequently, at NIMS Hospital, Hyderabad, her right breast was surgically removed. It was only post-surgery, upon consultation with doctors at NIMS Hospital and GSL Hospital, that she realized the alleged improper treatment by the Petitioner doctor. The issue of cancer was initially indicated in the report from Sree CT Scanning Centre, suggesting negligence on the part of the Petitioner doctor. Subsequent treatments included weekly chemotherapy at NIMS Hospital and radiotherapy at GSL Cancer Hospital, Rajahmundry, resulting in side effects such as hair loss and loss of appetite, impacting her ability to care for her family. The patient than filed a complaint at District Consumer forum for compensation on account of the negligence of the Petitioner doctor. The District Consumer forum after hearing both the sides concluded that the Petitioner doctor was negligent and awarded the patient a compensation of Rs.6 Lakhs. The State Consumer forum upheld the award of the District Consumer Forum. Aggreived by the order of the State Consumer forum the Petitioner doctor had filed an appeal in NCDRC.  

The Peititioner doctor argued that the lower courts have failed to appreciate the impeccable track record spanning four decades of medical practice. It was contended that negligence was wrongly attributed to the Petitioner doctor without taking into account the comprehensive evidence including that of an Oncology Surgeon. The Petitioner doctor added that diagnosing cancer was  challenging considering the young age and the relatively small size of the lump patient according to the Mammogram and Ultrasound. Additionally, the  treatment to the patient had been done 2.5 years prior to the Complainant’s death, with the cause of death remaining undisclosed. It was argued that sympathy should not translate into legal liability, and an incorrect diagnosis should not automatically amount to medical negligence. That the absence of an explanation for the 2- month gap between the Complainant’s discharge from the Petitioner’s hospital and the subsequent surgery suggests a potential exacerbation of the disease during this period.

On the other hand the Complainant patient said that that there was a delay in the correct

diagnosis and administration of treatment by the Petitioner doctor which adversely affected the outcome of treatment, particularly considering the young age of the patient and the aggressive nature of the disease with poor prognosis/ biological factors. The Complainant patient also relied on the opinion of expert doctor who emphasized the negative impact of treatment delays. Also, the Petitioner doctors own admission during evidence undermine her own defence. The Petitioner admitting to not recording suspicion about the mass in the medical records and prescribing antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs initially, followed by iron tablets after blood investigations points to the failure to diagnose cancer. The failure to prescribe further diagnostic tests such as MRI, CT scan, and FNAC, coupled with the absence of estrogen testing before surgery, are instances of negligence. The absence of a biopsy and FNAC recommendation, along with reliance solely on a normal mammogram, is deemed inadequate for ruling out breast cancer.

The Apex Consumer Court concluded “ In the given facts and circumstances, the continuous therapy and reluctance to even record the advice for further diagnostic investigations to find out the nature and prognosis of the lesions already noted in the Mammography Report would certainly suggest clear negligence on the part of the Petitioner as the Consulting Physician/ Family Doctor of the Complainant, since the lump originally seen at the earlier stage in the investigations had grown very rapidly till the surgery was performed four months later.” Considering the above facts and the failure of the Petitioner doctor to diagnose cancer at early stage amounted to negligence and the Apex Consumer Court upheld the compensation of 6 Lakhs awarded to the Patient.

Legal PrescriptionNever start the treatment till you have diagnosed the disease. Treating the patient with inconclusive diagnosis amounts to negligence.In case of high risk disease ensure that the investigations are done till the final diagnosis is reached. Refer to super specialists/tertiary hospital immediately in case the treatment of the patient is beyond your scope.