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Anaesthetist cleared of negligent death charge for not wearing surgical mask

The court ruled it was not possible to prove whether the use of a surgical mask would have prevented the patient’s streptococcus infection and resulting death.

File photo. Image: AOP

On Tuesday, Pirkanmaa District Court dismissed the charge against an anaesthetist accused of negligently causing the death of a patient by not using a surgical mask during an operation.

The anaesthetist, who was cleared of charges on Tuesday, faced a negligent death charge after a 21 year-old woman died from complications caused by a streptococcus infection she received during an operation performed at Dextra, a private hospital, in Tampere in August 2016.

Following the knee operation, according to testimony, the patient was sent home but later that night was taken to Tampere University Hospital after experiencing symptoms of severe headache and feeling disoriented.

It turned out that the woman had been suffering from encephalitis, a condition which was brought on by a streptococcus salivarius bacterial infection. Despite receiving intensive care at the hospital, the patient died.

Streptococcus bacterial infections are generally spread by way of the mouth, but in its decision on Tuesday the court said it could not be determined to a degree of certainty that the use of a surgical mask would have prevented the patient's death.

Testimony reveals details

During the trial the prosecution said that the attending anaesthetist had not been wearing a surgical mask during the procedure. The anaesthetist, according to court testimony, also had not placed the anaesthetic equipment to be used on the patient on a sterile surface, but rather on a sheet of sterile paper taken from a pack of sterilised surgical gloves.

The prosecution also testified the physician had opened the ampoule containing the anaesthetic before putting on surgical gloves and drawn additional anaesthetic from an ampoule which had previously been opened.

The prosecution and a representative from the health regulating organisation Valvira - as well as others - testified that it was highly likely that the patient received the infection as a result of the manner she was anaesthetised.

The prosecution - which claimed the anaesthetist was the only medical staff member in the operating room not wearing a surgical mask - had demanded that the anaesthetist face fines in the incident.

The anaesthetist had admitted to not having worn a surgical mask during the procedure but disputed the criminal charge. The physician said that use of surgical masks by medical staff during surgery was only a recommendation at Dextra hospital, not mandatory.

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