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Indian doctors charged with 'manslaughter'

Junior doctors Amit Misra and Rajeev Srivastava have been accused of killing Sean Phillips, by failing to diagnose an infection that caused his death.

india Updated: Jan 16, 2004 16:45 IST

Two Indian doctors have been accused of killing a fit and healthy young man by failing to diagnose an infection that caused his death.

The two junior doctors, Amit Misra and Rajeev Srivastava, allegedly ignored nurses' warnings that Sean Phillips, 31, had become extremely ill after a simple knee operation. Reportedly, the two doctors were baffled by the patient's symptoms but refused to consult a senior. As a result, they were too late in seeking an expert opinion, the Winchester Crown Court was told.

Sean Phillips, father of one, was admitted to Southampton General Hospital in June 2000 after damaging knee ligaments as he tried to jump over a bollard. Prosecutor Phillip Mott QC told the court that Phillips, a medical representative, developed 'strikingly abnormal' symptoms after his surgery but the two doctors failed to act. Phillips died from organ failure caused by a rare condition called toxic shock syndrome, which is a kind of blood poisoning.

Mott alleged Misra 34, and Srivastava, 38, were grossly negligent in the care of the patient. They failed to arrange blood tests and administer antibiotics that could have saved his life. Mott said: "Sean Phillips, at the age of 31, a fit and generally well man, went into hospital for a minor Knee surgery. He should have been in and out, but four days later he was dead. This was not just a tragic accident nor a simple mistake.

"It is the prosecution's assertion that these two doctors fell so far below the standard of care expected that they are guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence. That is to say that if they had not been negligent, Phillips would have survived.

"The gap between what they should have done and what they did was such that it amounts to a crime."

Mott told the jury that Misra and Srivastava were working shifts in the orthopaedic department, responsible for treating Phillips after the operation. Dr Misra was on ward duty when the symptoms first developed. "The nursing staff suggested blood tests. Dr Misra thought he knew better and refused. It was not until another doctor was on duty that tests were taken," said Mott, and added that "the results were available that evening but were never assessed or acted upon by either Dr Srivastava or Dr Misra."

By the time Dr Misra "prompted by a nurse, telephoned a senior doctor for help it was too late." It is alleged that matters were made worse by Dr Misra giving a 'wholly inaccurate' description of the patient's symptoms. Mott told the jury that each of the accused doctors had at least four opportunities to take action but failed to do so. He alleged the two were 'too proud' to ask for help. He said, "They could have admitted they were out of their depth. If they had showed some humility this man could have been saved."

Mott added: "For someone to become ill from toxic shock syndrome is rare. But for someone to have the indicators of what he had is not rare - it's not rocket science."

He said: "Did the doctors hope this condition would deal with itself and go away?

"Antibiotics would have worked by killing the bacteria and stopping the multiplication of toxins in Sean Phillips's body. Then, he could have been supported in intensive care or on the ward."

The jury was told that the patient's condition deteriorated as the toxic shock caused kidney
failure. Phillip's girlfriend Annabell Grant also told the court that when she visited her partner, she was expecting him to be discharged. But instead she found him on drip. He was not well, and three days later he was dead.The two have a five-year-old son.

Dr Mishra and Dr Srivastava have denied manslaughter due to gross negligence.

First Published: Jan 16, 2004 16:45 IST