The Maharashta Medical Council (MMC) has summed up that a 25-year-old legal battle over medical negligence between retired IAS officer P C Singhi and Padma Bhushan oncologist Dr Praful Desai stemmed from “misunderstanding” and “communication gaps”.
Deviating from the medico-legal case before the court, the MMC’s executive committee recently issued a warning notice to the doctor, but, with a definite attempt to draw his attention to the importance of the doctor-patient relationship.
The MMC took cognizance of the case after the Medical Council of India (MCI) sent a letter to them in March, asking them to take necessary action following Singhi’s complaint in February that demanded action against Desai, the former head of Tata Memorial Hospital. While Desai was absolved of criminal charges by the Supreme Court last year, it held that he had a contractual liability towards Singhi’s wife Leela, who was admitted to Bombay Hospital as his patient.
MMC’s warning notice to
Desai emphasised that the case emerged out of ‘misunderstanding’ and ‘communication gaps’, and it further advised Desai to take corrective steps.
According to sources, Desai was asked to apologise to Singhi, which the former declined to do. The notice also stated there was “tons of ego on one side and emotions on the other side”.
It read, “The council suggests you (Desai) to enlighten in various forums the importance and enhancement of doctor-patient relationship by bridging the communication gap. The compliance to the suggestion will be highly appreciated.”
While MMC had earlier issued a warning notice back in 1991, the current notice comes as a reiteration. Dr Kishor Taori, president of MMC, said, “This case had become a public matter and it even reached the Supreme Court. After conducting a hearing, we realised that he (Dr Desai) holds no criminal liability but has civil responsibility. Therefore, we found it fit to reiterate our warning instead of suspending him.”
In 1989, Singhi, now 86, had filed a case of medical negligence against Desai after his wife Leela died the same year due to cancer. Singhi had alleged that while Leela’s cancer was incurable, Desai had recommended a surgery.
“His junior, Dr A K Mukherji, had opened Leela’s abdomen and found out that the cancer had spread and a surgery was not possible. He sought a second opinion from Desai who without even glancing at my wife asked Mukherji to stitch the abdomen back. My wife remained in extreme pain from then till she breathed her last,” Singhi said.
Leela was first diagnosed with cancer in 1977 and was taken to Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital in New York for removal of her uterus. After the doctors there indicated that her condition was “completely inoperable”, Singhi brought her back to India. He had claimed that Desai recommended surgery but later refused to even accept that Leela was his patient. “We were not even issued a discharge slip from the hospital because she had no doctor to be assigned to,” Singhi added.
While the Bombay High Court found Desai guilty of negligence under a criminal charge, in September 2013, the Supreme Court overruled the finding. According to the SC, Desai could attract only civil liabilities, thereby dropping all criminal charges.
Desai said, “The SC ruled in my favour. But even after that Singhi wrote to the MCI to take action against me. There is no criminal liability on my part now.”
He added that the civil case for damages is still pending with the court. “Since that matter is sub-judice, I can’t comment on it,” he said.