An anaesthetist in Singapore was suspended from work for 2½ years for leaving his patient in the operating theatre multiple times to take calls.
The Straits Times reported that the incident took place at Gleneagles Hospital, Singapore in 2016. The 64-year-old patient was sent to the hospital due to a fracture caused by bone marrow cancer.
During the surgery, the patient experienced a complication as the blood cot blocked oxygen from his lungs, otherwise known as a pulmonary embolism. Although the medical staff were able to resuscitate him, he died the next day.
The Singapore Medical Council’s disciplinary tribunal’s investigation found that the patient’s chances of surviving were significantly lowered by anaesthetist Dr Islam Md Towfique’s delay in recognising the change in blood oxygen levels.
“Increasing the oxygen delivery is one of the first few actions that an anaesthetist should initiate when a patient’s [oxygen saturation] falls. Yet, for almost 50 minutes… this remedial action was not taken,” hospital parent firm Parkway Pantai Ltd said in a letter to Dr Islam.
Everybody does it
In his defence, Dr Islam argued that he did nothing wrong in leaving his patient for short periods as this “behaviour would not be that different from that of his other anaesthetic colleagues”.
“I was with the patient and did apply my expertise to keep the haemodynamics, but I forgot to increase the oxygen to 100%,” he added.
The CCTV footage at the hospital showed Dr Islam exiting the operating theatre multiple times, with the longest being at nine minutes.
However, prosecutors at Dr Islam’s disciplinary tribunal said things can go wrong very quickly, “We need to be there… there is not at any point… that it’s safe for an anaesthetist to leave the patient”.
“All you need is less than a minute for things to go wrong,” they added.
Admitting that the calls were not urgent
Meanwhile, Dr Islam admitted that the phone calls were not urgent, with a majority of them coming from overseas and local patients asking when to come for treatment.
Thus, he “was simply servicing other patients who would be paying his fees after coming to Singapore for treatment”, according to the tribunal.
With this, the tribunal concluded that his actions were motivated by financial gain and suspended him for 36 months.
Dr Islam pleaded for the sentence to be reduced by one-third as the case had taken a long time to be heard. However, the tribunal only agreed to reduce it by one-sixth based on his past record of accepting phone calls during surgery.