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A surgeon is suspended for operating on the wrong patient — and his colleagues go on strike

The Kenyatta National Hospital in Kenya announced March 1 that four medical professionals had been suspended after “apparently operating on the wrong patient.” (Video: NTV Kenya)
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Hundreds of doctors are protesting the suspension of a colleague who is accused of performing brain surgery on the wrong patient at a hospital in Kenya.

A neurosurgeon and medical team at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi — a main referral hospital for the Ministry of Health — reportedly opened the wrong patient's skull last month to remove a blood clot after two patients' identification tags were mixed up, according to the Daily Nation.

As a result, hospital officials suspended the neurosurgeon as well as two nurses and an anesthetist — a decision that has ignited an uproar from fellow doctors who say their colleagues should not be punished for the hospital's failures. On Monday, hundreds of doctors refused to work until the hospital addresses underlying procedural problems, such as issues with the hospital's booking system, as well as issues with staff shortages and inadequate equipment and operating space, according to the Standard.

It's unclear how long the suspensions will last.

“These are quality system issues that should not be leveled at staff,” Ouma Oluga, chief executive of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union, said in a TV interview, according to the Standard.

Oluga said doctors there are “overwhelmed.”

“You find one doctor could be doing 10 to 19 operations [per day],” he recently told reporters.

Understaffing is a problem across Africa, including Kenya, as many medical professionals leave their home countries to pursue career opportunities abroad, according to the World Health Organization.

WHO said that career changes, early retirement and morbidity are also contributing factors.

Doctors started brain surgery — then realized they were operating on the wrong patient

Hospital officials said in a statement Sunday that the two patients were admitted to the hospital's general surgery ward Feb. 18 and 19 with head injuries.

The Daily Nation previously reported that one of the patients needed surgery to remove a blood clot from the brain, and the other needed to be treated for brain swelling.

The newspaper reported that the patients have the same last name.

After the identification tags were mixed up, the wrong patient was taken into the operating room — and the surgical staff worked on the patient for hours before realizing the mistake, according to the newspaper.

The Daily Nation explained that patients were prepared for surgery and taken into the operating room with a name tag on their gowns to identify them. A source, who was not named, told the newspaper that the surgeon does not have any communication with the patient before the operation and simply goes on the information in the patient's chart.

Hours into the operation, the medical team could not find the expected blood clot, and they consulted a senior neurosurgeon, who advised them to stop.

The Daily Nation reported last week that “in a miracle of some sort,” the patient, who was not publicly identified, is in good condition, and the one who had the blood clot might not need surgery “because he had improved significantly.”

Hospital officials denied reports that one of the patients involved in the case had since died.

“We wish to state that both patients are still receiving treatment in the ward and have made remarkable improvement,” according to the hospital's statement.

The incident comes weeks after the country's health minister called for an investigation into claims on social media that new mothers had been sexually assaulted by male staff members in the newborn unit at the hospital, according to BBC News.

Hospital officials denied the allegations, saying in a statement in January that the “damning and untrue social media report is authored in bad faith, and members of public of goodwill need to ignore.”

After the February incident, 700 registrars met with the union, claiming that the neurosurgeon has been “unwarrantedly victimized” and that the consultant who supervised the surgery should instead be suspended.

The registrars said in a statement to the Daily Nation that “while our friend may have exhibited some procedural shortcomings, the surgery was done on the wrong patient mainly because of wrong patient labeling by the ward staff.”

The Daily Nation defined registrars as doctors who are “receiving advanced training in a specialist field of medicine to become a consultant.”

Kenyatta National Hospital's board chairman, Mark Bor, said in a statement that the board has opened an internal investigation, and the chief executive and the director of clinical services have been put on compulsory leave during that process.

Hospital officials said that the medical center “deeply regrets this event and has done all it can to ensure the safety and well-being of the patient in question.”

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