JUSTICE to the heirs of a victim of medical malpractice came 26 years after a doctor left two pieces of gauze inside the patient’s body during a surgical procedure.

The Supreme Court (SC) ordered Medical City Hospital to pay P15 million to the family of Natividad Agana, who died before a final decision could be reached on the case.

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In a 26-page resolution penned by Associate Justice Renato Corona, the SC en banc denied the second motion for reconsideration filed by petitioner Professional Services Inc. (PSI), owners of Medical City Hospital.

The SC ruled that PSI is equally liable for the negligence of its doctor-consultant who left two pieces of gauze inside Agana’s body during an operation for the removal of a tumor in her sigmoid in 1984.

However, the Court assured its January 31, 2007 decision and February 11, 2008 resolution were not intended to set a precedent that all hospitals can be held liable for the negligence of their physicians-consultants allowed to practice in its premises.

“We make it clear that PSI’s hospital liability based on ostensible agency and corporate negligence applies only to this case. It is not intended to set a precedent and should not serve as a basis to hold hospitals liable for every form of negligence of their doctor-consultants under any and all circumstances.”

Earlier, the Manila Medical Services, Incorporated (MMSA), Asian Hospital Incorporated (AHI), and Private Hospital Association of the Philippines sought to intervene in the case, saying that, unless modified, the ruling will jeopardize the financial viability of private hospitals and jack up the cost of health care.

The Special First Division of the Court granted the motions for intervention of MMSI, AHI and PHAP and referred to the Court en banc the second motion for reconsideration filed by PSI, the owner and operator of MCH.

The Court explained that the ruling is “unique to this case,” as the liability of PSI “arose from an implied agency with Dr. Miguel Ampil and an admitted corporate duty to the patient.”

PSI, according to the Court, admitted that had Agana informed the hospital of her discomfort and pain, the hospital would have been obliged to act on it. Thus, PSI failed its own standard of hospital care, and committed corporate negligence.

“By such admission PSI barred itself from arguing in its second motion for reconsideration that the concept of corporate responsibility was not yet in existence at the time Natividad underwent treatment; and that if it had nay corporate responsibility, the same was limited to reporting the missing gauzes and did not include taking an active step in fixing the negligence committed.”

The SC, in its February 11, 2008 resolution, affirmed its January 31 decision ordering the owners of the MCH and Doctor Ampil to pay P3-million the heirs of Agana, who died in 1986 while civil suit was still pending before the trial court.

It was not mentioned in the decision whether the patient’s death was related to the flawed surgical procedure or not.

In junking the second motion for reconsideration of PSI, the Court increased from P3 million to P15 million the damages awarded to the heirs of Agana noting that her family suffered for 26 long years.

“Such wretchedness could have been avoided had PSI simply done what was logical: heed the report of a gauze count discrepancy, initiate a review of what went wrong and take corrective measures to ensure the safety of Agana,” the Court said.

The award of P15 million is still subject to 12 percent interest from the finality of the resolution to full satisfaction.

Agana was rushed to MCH on April 4, 1984 because of difficulty of bowel movement and bloody anal discharge.

After a series of medical examinations, Doctor Ampil diagnosed her to be suffering from cancer of the sigmoid and recommended that she undergoes an immediate operation.

But records of the procedure showed that Ampil proceeded with the closure of the incision despite being informed by the attending nurses that two gauzes were missing.

After being discharged from the hospital, Agana complained of pains but was told by Ampil that was the natural consequences of the surgery.

On the same year, her daughter found a piece of gauze protruding from her reproductive organ. Ampil subsequently extracted by hand a piece of gauze and assured Natividad that the pain would vanish.

However, when the pain intensified, Natividad sought treatment at Polymedic General Hospital where a doctor found another smelling gauze, which badly infected her vaginal vault.

She underwent another surgery and subsequently filed a complaint for damages against the PSI and Ampil, alleging that the accused are liable for negligence for leaving two pieces of gauze inside her body and malpractice for concealing their acts of negligence. (JCV/Sunnex)