Patient died while doc was in toilet

May 25, 2011

By Jauhara Khan and Karren Bowden

A doctor is regretting taking a short toilet break, in which time a patient in his care died.

Nishchal Singh, 35, a general practitioner with a diploma in anaesthetics, pleaded and was found guilty of unprofessional conduct at a hearing of the Health Professions Council of South Africa in Durban on Tuesday.

Singh, thought to be of Pinetown, plead guilty to unprofessional conduct in that he neglected to adequately monitor his patient, Morne Jonker, and as a result failed to appreciate Jonker’s deterioration.

The chairman of the council’s professional conduct committee, Uttam Govind, suspended Singh from private practice for 12 months, six of which come into effect immediately. The remaining six months were suspended for five years, provided that Singh did not commit a similar offence during this period.

Govind also ordered Singh to attend a recognised training programme in anaesthetics, and submit regular feedback reports to the HPCSA.

Singh had been working as a principal medical officer at Pietermaritzburg’s Northdale Hospital when he treated Jonker, 33, who was undergoing surgery on October 2, 2008.

According to Singh’s plea explanation, he first administered a spinal anaesthetic to Jonker and then a general anaesthetic. Jonker’s blood pressure fell, but Singh and specialist orthopaedic surgeon Livan Turino treated him and his condition seemed to stabilise.

Believing Jonker to be stable, Singh left him in the care of two registered anaesthetic nurses to go to the toilet, informing them of his whereabouts.

During the next half-hour, another nurse asked for his assistance with another patient, and he took a phone call from a doctor with an emergency, as there was no other anaesthetist on the floor to deal with these problems, Singh said.

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