Home / News / Urgent Appeals / SRI LANKA: A pregnant woman died due to the negligence of hospital staff

SRI LANKA: A pregnant woman died due to the negligence of hospital staff

August 17, 2005

URGENT ACTION URGENT ACTION URGENT ACTION URGENT ACTION

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAM

Urgent Appeal

17 August 2005
----------------------------------------------------------------------
UA-144-2005: SRI LANKA: A pregnant woman died due to the negligence of hospital staff

SRI LANKA: Right to life; Medical negligence resulting in death
----------------------------------------------------------------------

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received another case of death cased by negligence of hospital staff.

According to the information received, Ms. Deepika Prasadhi Jayasuriya (31) died while delivering a baby at the Kethumathi Maternity Hospital due to the alleged negligence of hospital staff on 23 July 2005 (Click to see the victim's photo: Photo 1). The Visiting Obstetrician & Gynaecologist (VOG), Dr. U.D. Pushpananda Rathnasiri, who was in charge of the victim from the beginning of her pregnancy, appeared at the hospital more than 3 ½ hours after being informed that the victim's condition was complicated. According to the regulation, he should have gone to the hospital within 20 minutes of being contacted. In addition, the circumstance of the victim's death is unclear. Ms. Jayasuriya suddenly died despite the hospital staff's assurances to her husband that her condition was not serious and was manageable. 

In the meantime, the hospital has neither taken disciplinary action against the concerned VOG nor made an apology or compensation to the victim's family. Meanwhile, the police have not taken any action to investigate the incident, despite the victim's husband having made a complaint at the Panadura Police Station on 23 July 2005.  As a result, VOG Rathnasiri continues his work as usual.

This is yet another case related to the negligence of hospital staff. (Please see the other cases: UA-77-2005, UA-67-2005, UP-51-2005, and UP-56-2005). Please write a letter to the relevant local authorities to immediately investigate the incident and take disciplinary/legal action against the Kethumathi hospital staff and the said VOG.

Urgent Appeals Desk
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
-------------------------------------------------------------------

DETAILED INFORMATION:

Name of the victim: Ms. Deepika Prasadhi Jayasuriya (deceased), 31-years-old, resides in Batahena, Morontuduwa, Sri Lanka
Alleged perpetrators: Staff of the Kethumathi Maternity Hospital, Panadura, particularly Visiting Obstetrician & Gynaecologist (VOG), Dr. U.D. Pushpananda Rathnasiri
Date of incident: 23 July 2005

Details of case (as narrated by the victim's husband, S.A. Munasinghe):

On 20 July 2005, S.A. Munasinghe admitted his pregnant wife, Ms. Deepika Prasadhi Jayasuriya to the Kethumathi Maternity Hospital in Panadura for the delivery of their first child. This was on the advice of the Visiting Obstetrician & Gynecologist (VOG) Dr. U.D. Pushpananda Rathnasiri, who was in charge of Ms. Jayasuriya from the beginning of her pregnancy. S.A. Munasinghe recalls that the doctor assured him that his wife was in good health and that she would have a normal delivery. 

On the morning of July 23, Ms. Jayasuriya was taken to a delivery room. Mr. Munasinghe asked the hospital staff several times about his wife's condition at around noon and they repeatedly assured him that Ms. Jayasuriya was "doing fine".

According to P. Nandani Perera, the duty nurse that day, she resumed duty around 1:00pm on July 23, inspected Ms. Jayasuriya and gave her medicine to induce the delivery. Then the house officer (HO) arrived and conducted a pelvic examination and informed the Senior House Officer (SHO) who again conducted another pelvic examination. The SHO then informed VOG Rathnasiri of the results, presumably because there might be some complications in the delivery. However the said VOG failed to arrive. The hospital staff then attempted to use the 'vacuum system', but failed to bring about delivery. They then used forceps and forcibly delivered the baby at around 3:10pm. But Ms. Jayasuriya began to bleed profusely. The hospital staff tried to stop the bleeding but failed to do so. Ms. Jayasuriya was transferred to the operating theatre around 5:10 pm. Mr. Munasinghe said that he tried to touch his wife or at least speak with her, but it appeared that she was unconscious. The concerned VOG had yet to arrive at the hospital. The nurse said that she was unaware of what happened or who took charge of the patient thereafter.

Around 5:30pm when Mr. Munasinghe enquired after his wife's condition again, the hospital staff simply told him that there was a slight injury to the victim's blood vessel but this was nothing to be worried about. When he requested that his wife be transferred to another hospital, due to her precarious condition, the staff assured him that the hospital was equipped to handle her situation.

According to Mr. Munasinghe, it was only around 6:45pm - that is more than 3 ½ hours after being informed by the hospital that the victim's condition was complicated - that the VOG Rathnasiri arrived at the hospital. Ms. Jayasuriya died at 7:10pm. It is alleged that VOG Rathnasiri did not come to the hospital immediately after being informed about the victim's condition because of his private practice. However, the concerned VOG gave a lengthy description during the inquest of the many attempts which he made to revive and save the victim's life between 6:45pm and 7:10pm. The Medical Officer of Health (MOH), Panadura, informed Mr. Munasinghe that the concerned VOG had to come to the hospital within 20 minutes after contacted by the hospital. Mr. Munasinghe believes that his wife might have survived if the VOG presented himself in time.

On the night of July 23, Mr. Munasinghe complained to the Panadura Police Station about the incident, but the police have yet to take any serious action to investigate the case. The hospital authorities have not enquired into the incident nor taken any disciplinary action against the VOG. As a result, VOG Rathnasiri continues his work as usual.

Later the inquest into Ms. Jayasuriya's death was conducted by the Panadura Coroner who heard evidence from the duty nurse and the errant VOG. The coroner issued an open verdict until the Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) determined the cause of death. However, the JMO intimated he could only arrive at the cause of death after the Government Analyst's report on the deceased' tissue samples were sent to him. It is feared that this will be needlessly postponed. Mr. Munasinghe also expressed his concern that there will be attempts to conceal the truth behind this case, or that it will be dragged into oblivion.

The AHRC is deeply concerned by this death caused by the negligence of the hospital staff. This is not the first case of medical negligence on the part of hospital authorities at the Negombo Base Hospital. The AHRC has reported several similar cases this year (See further: UA-77-2005, UA-67-2005, UP-51-2005, and UP-56-2005). We urge an immediate investigation be conducted into the negligence of the Kethumathi hospital staff and the said VOG related to the victim's death. Appropriate action must be taken against the VOG and the hospital authorities accordingly.


SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please send a letter to the persons listed below demanding that an immediate enquiry is held into this matter and that a proper action is taken against the concerned doctor and hospital administration for their error.

Sample letter:

Dear __________,

Re: SRI LANKA: A pregnant woman died due to the negligence of hospital staff

Name of the victim: Ms. Deepika Prasadhi Jayasuriya (deceased), 31-years-old, resides in Batahena, Morontuduwa, Sri Lanka
Alleged perpetrators: Staff of the Kethumathi Maternity Hospital, Panadura, particularly Visiting Obstetrician & Gynaecologist (VOG), Dr. U.D. Pushpananda Rathnasiri
Date of incident: 23 July 2005

The young woman mentioned above passed away at the Kethumathi Maternity Hospital on 23 July 2005, whle attempting to deliver a baby, due to the alleged negligence of hospital staff. I was shocked to learn that the concerned Visiting Obstetrician & Gynaecologist Dr. U.D. Pushpananda Rathnasiri, who was in charge of the victim from the beginning of her pregnancy, arrived at the hospital more than 3 ½ hours after being informed by the hospital that the victim's condition was complicated. In principle, visiting doctors must attend to the hospital within 20 minutes after being contacted.
 
The negligence of the said VOG directly lies to the responsibility of the hospital authorities as he is an employee of the hospital. The hospital authorities should further take responsibility for the victim's death as she was in their custody at the time of incident.

However, I am aware that the hospital has neither taken disciplinary action against the concerned VOG nor made an apology or compensation to the victim's family. Meanwhile, the police have not taken any action to investigate the incident, despite the victim's husband having made a complaint at the Panadura Police Station on 23 July 2005.

I therefore urge you to order an immediate inquiry into this incident and take legal/disciplinary action against the concerned doctor and hospital staff. I especially urge the Ministry of Healthcare, Nutrition
and Uva Wellassa Development and the Sri Lankan Medical Council to hold an immediate disciplinary inquiry into this errant VOG and take appropriate disciplinary action against him. I also request you to ensure that the victim's family receives adequate compensation. 

I look for your action in this matter.

Sincerely yours,


----------------------

SEND A LETTER TO:

1. Mr.
Nimal Siripala de Silva 
Minister
Ministry of Healthcare, Nutrition and Uva Wellassa Development
"Suwasiripaya", No.385,
Rev. Baddegama Wimalawansa Thero Mawatha
Colombo 10
SRI LANKA
Tel/Fax: +94 11 2 662982, 694132 or 694227
E-mail: Minister@health.gov.Ik, sechim@sltnet.lk (for the secretary)
 
2. Provincial Director of Health (WP)

P O Box 876

Maligawatte Secretariat
Colombo 10
SRI LANKA
Fax: +94 11 5353501
 
3. Registrar
Sri Lanka Medical Council
6 Wijerama Mawatha
Colombo 07
SRI LANKA
Fax: +94 11 2 624787 

4. Mr. K. C. Kamalasabesan
Attorney General
Attorney General's Department
Colombo 12
SRI LANKA
Fax: +94 11 2 436 421

5. Mr. Chandra Fernando
Inspector General of Police (IGP)
New Secretariat, Colombo 1
SRI LANKA
Fax: +94 11 2 440440/327877

6. Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy
Chairperson
Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka
No. 36, Kynsey Road, Colombo 8
SRI LANKA
Tel: +94 11 2 694 925 / 673 806
Fax: +94 11 2 694 924 / 696 470
E-mail: sechrc@sltnet.lk


Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

Document Type :
Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID :
UA-144-2005
Countries :
Document Actions
Share |
Subscribe to our Mailing List
Follow AHRC
Extended Introduction: Urgent Appeals, theory and practice

A need for dialogue

Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many others are frustrated with the absence of rights on labour issues, the environment, gender and the like. 

Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere.  People complain among friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the situation in a country because it is so hard to monitor. 

Though the media may cover the issues in a broad manner they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the average person.  And along with censorship – a common blight in Asia – there is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive or at least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent are discouraged as unfashionably unpatriotic. Talking about issues like torture is rarely encouraged in the public realm.

There may also be unwritten, possibly unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.  Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the public space, sometimes very subtly.  In other places an inner consensus is influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social expression of those less fortunate.  Moral and ethical qualms can also be an obstacle.

In this way, causes for complaint go unaddressed, un-discussed and unresolved and oppression in its many forms, self perpetuates.  For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need ways to get these issues into the public sphere.

Changing society

In the past bridging this gap was a formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money and were therefore controlled by investors.  Printing presses were expensive, which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money.  Except in times of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off and sideline or misrepresent the poor.

Still, thanks to the IT revolution it is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost.  In this situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public, regardless of the class or caste of the individual.

Practical action

The AHRC Urgent Appeals system was created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by doing so, to create a network of support and open avenues for action.  If X’s freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power or if Z finds his or her labour rights abused, the incident can be swiftly and effectively broadcast and dealt with. The resulting solidarity can lead to action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and follow suit, as the human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster. The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful tools.   

At the core of the Urgent Appeals Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her own government.   However these cases in bulk create a narrative – and this is most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:

"The urgent appeal introduces narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film, former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right, the organisation will be doing all right."

Patterns start to emerge as violations are documented across the continent, allowing us to take a more authoritative, systemic response, and to pinpoint the systems within each country that are breaking down. This way we are able to discover and explain why and how violations take place, and how they can most effectively be addressed. On this path, larger audiences have opened up to us and become involved: international NGOs and think tanks, national human rights commissions and United Nations bodies.  The program and its coordinators have become a well-used tool for the international media and for human rights education programs. All this helps pave the way for radical reforms to improve, protect and to promote human rights in the region.