Officials punished for hospital fatality

Updated: 2011-09-05 06:45

By Yang Yijun (China Daily)

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SHANGHAI - Two senior hospital executives were punished after six medical staff members fled during a fire and left a patient who was undergoing surgery to suffocate.

Chen Aidong, vice-president of the Shanghai Third People's Hospital Affiliated to the School of Medicine of Shanghai Jiaotong University, formerly known as Baogang Hospital, was removed from his post, as he was in charge of the hospital's fire protection.

Fang Yong, president of the hospital, received an administrative warning, the Xinhua News Agency reported on Saturday.

The six medical staff - two doctors, two anesthesiologists and two nurses - have not been punished yet.

On Aug 24, a fire broke out at about 9:45 pm in an operating room at the hospital when a 49-year-old patient surnamed Zhu was undergoing an amputation after a traffic accident. The medical staff members fled, leaving the patient, who was under general anesthesia, to die from suffocation.

An investigation panel, composed of the authorities responsible for public security, fire protection and public health, said that the fire was caused by a weakness in the hospital's fire protection system and an absence of emergency protocols in special areas including operating rooms, which led to the medical workers' responses.

The fire started in an ozone sterilizer in one of the operating rooms. A nurse tried to put out the fire with an extinguisher but failed.

The fire caused a power outage, which disabled the electric brake on the operating table.

The doctors left the operating room to find firefighters to rescue the patient after they found that the respirator, which can operate for about 30 minutes during a blackout using standby power, was functioning normally.

The firefighters arrived in about five minutes and took another 25 minutes to extinguish the fire.

The Shanghai Public Health Bureau said that it would have been dangerous to transfer the patient and replace his respirator with simple breathing equipment.

However, Tang Jianli, a lawyer with the Shanghai Haida Law Office, who is experienced in medical disputes, argued that doctors should not flee and abandon a patient.

"Even if the operating table is locked, there is always a bed with wheels and simple breathing equipment in every operating room, with which doctors can transfer the patient out of the room within minutes," Tang said.

"Whatever effort they made would have been much better than just leaving him alone in the operating room. The patient could hardly survive in that situation," he said.

Hong Daode, a professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, told China National Radio that it should be up to the public security authorities investigating the incident to determine if the medical workers had committed the crime of a medical accident or negligent homicide.

But Hong said that the victim's family could institute proceedings to gain compensation from the six medical workers as well as the hospital.

While the incident aroused heated discussion and wide criticism of the medical workers, the victim's cousin, who declined to be identified, told China Newsweek: "We can't expect every doctor to be a hero. How can they treat patients when they cannot guarantee their own safety?"

The Shanghai medical and public health system will have fire drills and launch a general inspection of certain areas in hospitals including operating rooms, intensive care units and emergency rooms to prevent similar incidents.

China Daily

(China Daily 09/05/2011 page5)