Doctor leads first crusade against medical negligence in China

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The Independent Online

In the early hours of a sticky midsummer night last year, Dr Yu Weihua paced the corridor outside the maternity ward of the Guangzhou Mother and Infant Hospital in south China's Guangdong province. Yet when news finally came that Dr Yu's "pretty little girl" had been born, his joy was short-lived. An hour later the child was dead.

In the early hours of a sticky midsummer night last year, Dr Yu Weihua paced the corridor outside the maternity ward of the Guangzhou Mother and Infant Hospital in south China's Guangdong province. Yet when news finally came that Dr Yu's "pretty little girl" had been born, his joy was short-lived. An hour later the child was dead.

Although the pathologist's report said the baby died from taking in too much amniotic fluid, Dr Yu concluded after months of research that his daughter's death was avoidable. "The doctors should have taken action much earlier," he said. He found that there had been no routine test to determine if the baby lacked oxygen.

The hospital denied any wrongdoing, but Dr Yu, who was grief-stricken, decided to put up a fight. The mild-mannered surgeon has become the leading crusader against medical malpractice in China, a "public scourge" in his view.

The conditions of China's crowded hospitals are being exposed by soaring numbers of complaints about poor medical care. More people are taking their grievances to the media, courts and consumer watchdogs to seek compensation from doctors and hospitals.

Dr Yu's lawyer, Chen Zhihua, said: "People are now more aware of their rights, particularly as they more or less have to pay for medical care themselves." He added: "Also, it is now all market-driven. Some hospitals try to take in more patients than their capacity without caring about the quality of service."

Yet the odds remain stacked against the victims' families.Chen Jia'ni, an eight-year-old from Hangzhou, underwent surgery on her left eye. Unfortunately, it was her right eye that required the operation. When her parents sued, they were told the hospital bore no responsibility. Another girl, Ge Yilin, also eight, fared worse. After heart surgery, her womb was damaged and her legs crippled, while her heart problem remained. A local court decided there was no case to answer.

In both cases, courts relied on the 1987 "Rules on Treatment of Medical Accident" that Dr Yu and others are trying to revise. "The key issue is that medical appraisal is not fair or objective because the committee members who determine the nature of the incident are mostly doctors," Mr Chen said. "I am a doctor myself," added Dr Yu. "I know there is an unspoken rule that you never vote against a fellow doctor. It's just like letting a father decide if his son is guilty."

Some victims of medical malpractice have taken the law into their own hands. In August, former patient Wu Guoyu attacked her doctor, Wang Li, from the Wuhan No 6 Hospital, with sulphuric acid. Wang had diagnosed Ms Wu as having a benign mammary gland tumour which turned out to be breast cancer.

On 15 March, Consumer Rights Day in China, Dr Yu launched a petition signed by fellow victims saying that the legislation on handling medical accidents was corrupt. The petition has drawn a strong reaction. Partly due to his efforts, the authorities have promised new legislation to make the system more open, scientific and impartial, by allowing patients to view their medical records and by increasing compensation levels. The draft law was scheduled for release in October, but officials at the Ministry of Public Health admitted the draft was still under discussion and refused to give a timetable.

Last month, a medical appraisal denied that the death of Dr Yu's baby was accidental, absolving the Guangzhou Mother and Infant Hospital of responsibility. "We believe that her lung was infected when inside the womb," Madam Cao, the hospital's head of administration, told The Independent.

With Mr Chen's help, Dr Yu is trying to persuade a local court to conduct an independent appraisal, an unprecedented move in China. The most likely outcome for Dr Yu is to reach a settlement with the hospital. "I'll probably accept an offer of money to settle my daughter's case. But I am not going to stop fighting," he vows.

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