Director-General of Health Services, Dr. Ajith
Mendis has ordered a probe into the death of a young Ports
Authority engineer, K. M. Upul Kumara, due to alleged medical
negligence at the Gampaha General Hospital.
The investigation follows a complaint to Health
Ministry Secretary Dr. Athula Kahandaliyanage by the victimís
brother, Dr. Dayanath Ranathunga, a former Medical Officer of
Maternal and Child Health in charge of the Kalutara district.
"We are trying to ascertain why this patient was
kept for more than three hours at the Gampaha Hospital without
transferring him immediately to the Colombo National Hospital",
a senior Health Ministry official said.
The Gampaha Hospital authorities could have even
hired an ambulance in this emergency situation, if one was not
immediately available, he said.
"A top level probe is in progress", he assured.
"We are investigating all aspects".
The official said that it would have helped the
investigation if Dr. Ranathunga had lodged the complaint before
the body was buried. "It came after the funeral was over".
"I donít see a problem because all the records
are available at the hospital", Dr. Ranathunga pointed out.
"They can easily get to the bottom of it".
"Can you expect someone who had lost his beloved
brother to be complaining to the authorities amidst a family
engulfed in grief?", he asked.
"It was a clear case of medical negligence and
gross inefficiency on the part of those responsible", he
"As a doctor, I telephoned the Gampaha Hospital
many times to ask them to send my brother to Colombo as soon as
possible, but they kept him there for more than three hours
without proper treatment", he asserted.
"When they finally brought him in an ambulance,
it was too late", he cried. "It was not possible to reverse the
brain damage he had suffered".
"Upul was my brother and best friend. We shared
a close bond from our childhood days -- the time we spent
together in the village school and later at university", a
grief-stricken Ranathunga recalled.
Upul was the father of a small daughter.
Recounting that fateful day, Dr. Ranathunga
said: "On December 8, 2007, Upul tripped on the staircase and
fell four steps from the floor. He was holding his daughter,
lost balance and knocked his head. He was unconscious and was
admitted to the Gampaha Hospital within 10 minutes. He gained
consciousness on the way and was subsequently examined by the
hospitals' primary care unit.
"Hearing the news, as a doctor myself, I phoned
the hospital and informed that my brother had been admitted. I
was told that the X-ray seems fine and that there is nothing to
be worried about. After some time, my brother had complained of
a severe headache. My sister-in-law had informed the staff and a
nurse had given a Paracetamol, which he vomited. As a doctor, I
am shocked by the simple fact that the vomiting and the
headache, as complained by the patient, were not diagnosed as a
symptom of internal bleeding in the brain by the qualified
"Upul was transferred to a ward and neglected in
the primary care unit for a long time. By 4.20 p.m., I came to
know that the hospital had decided to transfer him to the
Colombo National Hospital (CNH). I went to the CNH and made
arrangements to take him to the theatre when the ambulance
arrived. In the meantime, the patient's situation had turned
critical and he had been given oxygen.
"I was also informed the Gampaha Hospital does
not have an ambulance of its own, and it would take about 20
minutes to fetch one from the Divulapitiya Hospital. As it was
getting late, I made several phone calls to the hospital between
5 and 5.30 pm, but unfortunately no responsible officer could be
contacted. In the meantime, my brother was fighting for his
life, still lying on that trolley, unattended at the Gampaha
"Finally, I phoned the intern medical officer by
5.45 p.m. and was then told that the ambulance is in place and
the documents with respect to the transfer are being processed.
By 6.30 p.m., I was connected to the primary care unit. It was
answered by a medical officer pursuing postgraduate study. I was
again shocked to hear that my brother had been taken to the
ambulance, but taken back to the primary care unit to instal an
artificial breathing tube (ET Tube).
"It is questionable as to why they could not
install this tube inside the ambulance itself while it was
mobile. Anyhow, I assumed that they would have made a Burr Hole
(small hole in the skull) to release pressure in the brain
emanating due to bleeding.
"Even by 6.30 pm, I was informed by my brother's
friend who was beside him, that the patient was ready in the
ambulance to be transferred, but delays were caused due to
nurses shift changes and the waiting time for another nurse to
get dressed. I tried to contact the matron, but failed. Finally,
after a delay of half an hour, the nurse was ready. The
ambulance finally left the Gampaha by 7.10 p.m. and reached
Colombo by 8 p.m.
"It was after three hours and thirty minutes
that the patient was transferred to Colombo. During this period,
the only action taken by the so-called medical practitioners was
to install an ET tube, to a patient who had a severe internal
bleeding in the brain. This was how my brother's half dead body
was brought to the Colombo National Hospital.
"The patient was immediately taken for surgery
by the Colombo hospital staff, and the operation completed
within two hours. The doctors informed that there was a lot of
blood in the brain, and the pressure had damaged some parts.
Despite every effort by the hospital staff of Ward No. 9, of the
neurosurgical unit, my brother died after five days.
"I am aware that the consultant surgeon of the
Gampaha Hospital didn't turn up to examine my brother. It is a
pathetic situation. Despite continuous pleading, the nurses
didn't look into the matter. It is a shame that efforts made to
get a private ambulance was obstructed by the intern medical