Minister in OT,AIIMS docs fought over anaesthesia dose

A senior surgeon and former sub-dean at AIIMS has complained to Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad alleging “incompetence and mismanagement” by an anaesthetist in treating three patients,including MoS for Water Resources and Minority Affairs Vincent H Pala.

Written by Pritha Chatterjee | New Delhi | Published: April 4, 2012 3:22 am

A senior surgeon and former sub-dean at AIIMS has complained to Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad alleging “incompetence and mismanagement” by an anaesthetist in treating three patients,including MoS for Water Resources and Minority Affairs Vincent H Pala.

Dated February 18,the letter was reportedly sent to the ministry requesting a “fair inquiry”,after an internal committee set up by the institute absolved the anaesthetist,Dr A P Bhalla,of all charges and instead issued a memorandum to complainant Dr Sunil Chumber.

A professor of surgery,Dr Chumber initially complained to AIIMS Director Dr R C Deka in May 2011 about three thyroid gland surgeries conducted earlier that month. He mentioned that one of the patients was a VIP,“Union minister Vincent H Pala”.

Among other things,Dr Chumber called Dr Bhalla a “pompous fool” who “does not listen to advice from his colleagues” and warned that his decisions ended up “endangering the lives of patients and each could individually be an episode of medical negligence”.

Following Dr Chumber’s complaint,the administration set up a four-member committee under Head of Oncology Dr G K Rath. In a report submitted in December 2011,the committee said it had found no procedural irregularities,since “all patients were discharged in safe and healthy condition”.

On February 7,Dr Chumber was issued a memorandum asking “the reasons for using objectionable language against a colleague”.

In his reply 10 days later,Dr Chumber accused the institute authorities of “appointing Dr Bhalla’s friends on the committee” and went on to quote from Oxford Advanced Learner’s dictionary to underline that the words “pomp” and “fool” used by him for Dr Bhalla were “carefully chosen keeping in mind the overall pompous behaviour of the faculty in concern” since he “repeatedly refused to heed the advice of a colleague (me)”.

In his complaints,accessed by Newsline,Dr Chumber has alleged that,of the three patients,the Union minister “could be intubated (the insertion of a tube in the windpipe to administer drugs during surgery) only in the fifth attempt”. This,according to the surgeon,could have resulted in internal injuries.

Dr Chumber also mentions the case of an 18-year-old who went into pulmonary oedema during surgery,after which he had to be shifted to the ICU. The third patient,the surgeon says,was given local anaesthesia instead of general “even when he (Dr Bhalla) was repeatedly asked not to do so”. This patient reportedly developed “bilateral phrenic nerve paralysis” after the procedure.

Dr Bhalla refused to comment saying “I am not authorised to speak to the press”. In his defence before the AIIMS-appointed committee,he had said that all the patients,including Pala,were very satisfied after their surgery. He also said that multiple attempts at intubation do not indicate incompetence,and that cervical or neck block anaesthesia,was a “known technique done routinely”,and in this case,he had performed it as demonstration for his students.

“I am not authorised to comment,but I am acting purely in the interest of patient safety,” Dr Chumber told Newsline.

AIIMS authorities,including director Deka,declined to comment.

A senior official of the institute said,“The complainant’s side was taken into consideration,and an independent committee appointed to inspect the matter. Since the committee has declared the allegations to be baseless,accusing authorities of favouritism and using such unparliamentary language is not correct,and that is why he was issued a memorandum.”

Pala is visiting his constituency in Shillong and could not be reached for comments.

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