It is alleged that the remains of a patient at the Colombo North Teaching Hospital, Ragama have been misplaced
- When they had revealed the face it was evident that the body was someone else’s
- The hospital authorities are not responding properly
At a time when the country’s healthcare system has been inundated with daily admissions of COVID patients and a high mortality rate, healthcare workers are doing their best to handle the situation. The public too are emotionally overwhelmed as life has become quite unpredictable with a mutating COVID variant, but has placed their trust in the system. However, certain incidents have raised doubts about the sense of responsibility vested upon the authorities in protecting patient’s rights. One of these incidents occurred when the remains of a patient were misplaced at the Colombo North Teaching Hospital, Ragama. The patient, before her death, had received treatment at this hospital.
Rs 1000 charged for identification
On the morning of August 12 the patient had breathing difficulties and was taken to the Ragama Hospital. “There she was detected as COVID positive and was admitted to Ward no. 30,” said a relation of the patient who spoke on conditions of anonymity. “Till evening her son was at the hospital and returned home. The next day morning when he visited the hospital they had informed that his mother had passed away and that the remains were taken to the mortuary. They were waiting till evening to receive the remains of the deceased. Once they had received the body he found that it looked different and wanted to see the face. To see the face of the deceased the family had to pay Rs. 1000 to a person in the mortuary. But when they had revealed the face it was evident that the body was someone else’s. It was another female’s body. Later they had checked at the hospital and the bodies at the mortuary, but the body wasn’t there. Until now there is no clue about what had happened. The hospital authorities are not responding properly either,” said the relation of the deceased.
A question of misidentification?
When contacted, Colombo North Teaching Hospital Director Dr. Liyanage Ranaweera said that the issue is not about the body being misplaced. “The body is there, but the relations claim that it’s not theirs. It’s an issue with misidentification and we may even have to do a DNA test to ascertain the identity of the body. Three other patients also died on the same day and those parties claim that those bodies are of their relatives.” said Dr.Ranaweera.
“Another version to the story is that there were no relatives present when the coroner was conducting the inquest. Usually one or two relatives have to be present during the inquest. The only instance an inquest happens without the presence of relatives is when there’s an unidentified body. Then we have to report to courts and it is only after a court order that such a body will be taken away,” he explained.
When asked why Rs. 1000 was charged from the family for requesting to see the face of the remains of the deceased Dr. Ranaweera questioned why the family had given Rs. 1000 in the first place. “Bribing in mortuaries is a common complaint. Besides COVID bodies are sealed in order to control the spread of the virus. Then why did the family request to open it in that case?” asked the doctor.
He further said that he too had filed a complaint with the Ragama Police requesting to conduct an inquiry into the incident. “Therefore, two inquiries are running parallel. Besides I have also appointed a committee comprising the Judicial Medical Officer, Consultant Judicial Medical Officer and a Hospital Secretary to probe the matter. I have informed the Ministry and Director General of Health Services regarding this incident. Until all investigations are done it’s difficult to conclude what has exactly happened.” said Dr. Ranaweera.
“This usually happens when next of kin gets emotionally excited when they are supposed to identify a body of a relative,” opined Deputy Health Services Director Dr. Hemantha Herath. “These incidents happen very rarely, but if such an incident takes place the hospital should have an inquiry and take all precautions to avoid such incidents from taking place.” said Dr. Herath.
When asked if there’s an excess of dead bodies at mortuaries, Dr. Herath said that although there’s no excess of bodies cremations may delay due to certain medico-legal reasons. “In most instances the next of kin are in quarantine and they are unable to be present to identify a body of a relative,” said the doctor.
The family has lodged a complaint with the Ragama Police Station. When this newspaper made inquiries Ragama Police OIC CI Buddhika Rajapaksa said that investigations are underway and that the hospital director too has called for an inquiry.