Do you know about 50 lakh people in India lose their lives to medical errors every year?
Medical negligence has been a cause of concern for a long time. The term describes situations where healthcare professionals fail to provide standard care. This may harm the patient, permanently disable, or even lead to death in extreme cases. But every loss of life is not a result of the professional being careless. For eg, an unsuccessful surgery can occur even with no fault of the surgeon.
The National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission (NCDRC) lays stress on 'material on record'. Unless there is enough evidence, the automatic assumption of medical malpractice is wrong. That being said, medical negligence in India does need surveillance to prevent wrongdoings.
Let’s compare Indian stats with those of other countries. This will give us a fair idea of where we stand in our fight against medical negligence.
Medical Negligence Cases in India Statistics
Healthcare reforms in India have been a debated topic of discussion in the recent past. And the worrying issue of medical negligence forms a vital segment of that.
As per the National Library of Medicine, the yearly number of medical negligence cases in India is around 5.2 million. Such situations have significantly risen over the years. Some studies have witnessed around a 110% jump in annual numbers. The 400% surge in medical litigation cases as seen in a 2015 study further justifies that.
When it comes to death due to medical errors about 80% involve surgery. Reports suggest that most of the time the skill or the knowledge of the professionals is not in question. Instead, it is the lack of communication and coordination among team members that is to be blamed. This kind of mismanagement during emergencies leads to around 70% of deaths.
Some Indian states are however more affected by medical negligence than others. A 2016 report sees Punjab taking the top spot with 24%. While some are not too far behind.
West Bengal - 17%
Tamil Nadu - 11%
Here is another list reflecting the total deaths due to medical errors as reported by NCRB. This zone-wise data is a compilation of 2017, 2018, and 2019 annual reports.
North - 118 cases
North-East- 23 cases
Central- 115 cases
East- 196 cases
West- 46 cases
South - 128 cases
Medical Negligence In Other Countries
The number of medical negligence cases in India is alarming. But the problem is actually a global issue that affects many more countries. A 2019 WHO study showed that 2.6 million deaths happen annually due to medical errors. They result from unsafe healthcare and can be avoided with proper measures.
Medical Negligence in the USA
As per a 2016 article in British Medical Journal (BMJ), medical errors sit 3rd on the list of leading causes of death. The study found more than 251,000 deaths happen in the US annually due to negligence. While some people later called it an ‘exaggeration’, the issue is very much genuine.
The US medical malpractice stats show about 85,000, lawsuits on average are filed every year. And given that many go unreported/ unrecognized, the actual digit for cases of medical negligence in the USA is probably more. As far as payouts go, 2022 saw the average reward be around $679,000.
Medical Negligence in the UK
Medical negligence is also prevalent in the United Kingdom. The estimated figure is around 237 million cases in England every year. Out of them, about 712 to 1708 are extreme leading to death. The negligence takes place at various levels. Administrative errors lead the list with 54%. It is followed by prescribing at 21% while dispensing sits at 16%.
National Health Service (NHS) stats also reveal the jump in claims over the years. The body received around 5,426 claims in 2006/07. The numbers went to 12,629 in 2020/21 seeing a whopping 133% increase. And then in 2021/22, it rose to 15,078 new claims. This shows how medical negligence in the UK is worsening with each passing year.
Medical Negligence in Australia
Australia is another country that faces the grave problem of medical negligence. Diagnostic errors are estimated to be around 140,000 every year. Among them, 21,000 cases are of serious nature causing about 2000–4000 deaths. Another National Library of Medicine report shows more concerning numbers.
As per that, the errors cause about 18000 deaths every year. While more than 50000 patients get disabled. Besides, the Medical Journal of Australia reports also found that 1 in every 7 clinical visits results in some form of diagnostic mistake. It is really saddening as about 80% of the errors seem to be easily preventable.
In 2018, the average payout for medical negligence in Australia was around $650,000. Also, as per Northern Daily Leader data, the Hunter New England Health Service paid $69 million. This was for 105 cases between October 1, 2016, and October 1, 2018. Such high payouts are clear indications of the seriousness of the errors.
India’s Situation In Comparison To The Other Countries
As you can see, the issue of medical care gone wrong is there all around the globe. Even in developed countries with arguably better resources. But they are doing a better job at tracking and acting on them. The high number of lawsuits and compensation prices are proof of that.
In contrast, medical negligence cases in India statistics are way inadequate. A People for Better Treatment (PBT) inquiry showed only 515 cases in West Bengal from 2001 to 2010. Out of which, only 15 doctors (9%) got dismissed. While 30 of them were given a pass with a warning.
In recent years, more incidents are seeing the light of the day thanks to better awareness. But the NCRB death reports still seem insufficient. Especially when you consider India has over 1.4 billion population. They also give the impression of inconsistency.
218 cases in 2018
201 cases in 2019
133 cases in 2020
Some may argue the ‘reporting’ process got impacted by COVID. Or see it positively as a sign of improvement in healthcare facilities. But the 2022 Amit Kataria incident in Gurugram along with many more shows the struggle is an ongoing one.
From incompetency to lack of resources, there are many reasons behind medical negligence cases in India. To address the problem, it is essential to:
Improve the healthcare facilities.
Bring more transparency to the system.
Train the practitioners to take accountability.
Increase awareness among patients (especially in rural areas) regarding their healthcare rights.
Make stricter laws on medical negligence in India.
Provide financial protection to victim’s families in case of medical negligence
A combined effort and good intentions are all it takes to bring forth a change.
The Author : Dr. Sunil Khattri
Dr. Sunil Khattri MBBS, MS(General Surgery), LLB, is a Medical doctor and is a practicing Advocate in the Supreme Court of India and National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, New Delhi.