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Patient dies when surgical team flees

Updated: 2011-08-27 09:46

By Wang Hongyi (China Daily)

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SHANGHAI - Six medical staff members who fled during a fire, leaving a patient who was undergoing surgery to suffocate in thick smoke, have been suspended and placed under investigation, the hospital said.

On Wednesday, a fire broke out around 9:45 pm in an operating room at Baogang Hospital in Shanghai, where a 49-year-old patient surnamed Zhu was undergoing an amputation surgery after a traffic accident. Two doctors, two anaesthesiologists and two nurses fled. The patient was under general anesthesia and suffocated.

The hospital said it would be dangerous to move the patient, who had just undergone the amputation and was still bleeding profusely. Moreover, the fire had caused a power outage that disabled the electric lock on the operating table.

Fang Yong, president of Baogang Hospital, said the fire started with an ozone sterilizer in one of the operating rooms.

"Power supplies were cut off, and an emergency system was turned on to keep the patient's breathing machine running," said Fang. He said when the power cut off, the breathing machine could remain working for only 30 minutes.

"Under the circumstances, the doctors decided not to transfer the patient, but to leave and find firefighters to rescue the patient," he said.

Fang conceded that the medical workers misjudged the severity of the fire. He said firefighters arrived about five minutes after the fire began and took 30 minutes to extinguish the flames.

Zhu's nephew, surnamed Jin, said he entered the hospital after the fire was extinguished. "Firefighters were cleaning up the scene and I saw my uncle's body on the ground, covered with a white cloth."

Jin said he saw no burn injuries on Zhu's body. "The flames did not spread to the room where he was being operated on. He had apparently suffocated."

Fang admitted the hospital was responsible for the patient's death. "We have to say our staff made the wrong decision and were not professional enough in providing adequate first aid."

The incident drew widespread attention and discussion on the Internet, with many netizens criticizing the medical workers. Some even accused them of manslaughter.

"Why doesn't the hospital have emergency power when power is cut off?" a netizen asked.

Some postings expressed sympathy for the doctors, saying they have to save themselves before saving others.

One netizen said the operation bed weighs at least 200 kg and is often hard to move when power is cut off. "It's also fatal to remove the tube connected to the anesthesia machine before the patient can breathe independently."

His comment was echoed by Professor Wen, a noted anaesthesiologist in Shanghai.

"They will be held responsible if they failed to take necessary measures to ensure the patient's safety before the fire became uncontrollable," he said.

If the doctors escaped after making sure all the equipment was running well and the patient was safe, then their evacuation would be justified, said the Shanghai-based law professor Tang Xiaotian.

Tang said authorities are investigating whether the doctors and nurses performed their duty properly before fleeing the fire.

Xinhua contributed to this story.


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