Danish doctor negligence case to be retried by supreme court

A junior doctor who was convicted of negligence will be retried at Denmark’s Højesteret supreme court after fellow medical professionals launched a support campaign.

Danish doctor negligence case to be retried by supreme court
A file photo of Skejby Hospital in Aarhus. Photo: Ernst van Norde/Polfoto/Ritzau

The junior doctor, formerly of Svendborg Hospital, was convicted by the Østre Landsret regional court following the death of a diabetic patient in 2013.

Denmark’s Appeals Board (Procesbevillingsnævnet) confirmed via a press statement on Wednesday that the case will now be tested at the Højesteret supreme court.

The carrying of the appeal to the higher court follows a social media campaign in which doctors, nurses and several other medical professional groups expressed their support for the doctor and pointed out the potential impact of the conviction on daily practice at hospital wards across the country.

READ ALSO: Danish junior doctors start viral campaign to overturn key ruling against colleague

The campaign carried the hashtag #detkuhaværetmig (‘it could have been me’) and also involved a petition, which gathered thousands of signatures.

The case central to the ruling dates back to August 5th, 2013, when, after seeing a patient who was complaining of stomach pain at the hospital’s accident and emergency unit, the on-duty junior doctor ordered a blood sugar test, having seen from the patient's records that he was a diabetes sufferer.

That request was made by word of mouth to a nurse, rather than on paper – and was not carried out either before or after the individual was later kept in for scanning, according to a summary published by medical professionals’ journal Ugeskriftet.

The patient was then started on a fasting schedule in preparation for a CT scan. It remains unclear who initiated the fasting schedule, with no record in the patient’s journals and no medical reason for this type of scan. The doctor denies requesting the fast.

The patient was later found unconscious and died nearly four weeks later on September 1st, 2013, most likely as a result of low blood sugar-related brain damage.

Subsequent police investigation of the sequence of events led to the junior doctor being charged with breaching a medical conduct paragraph relating to “severe or repeated negligence of duty or carelessness in the practicing of duties”, because she failed to register the request for a basic blood sugar measurement in the patient chart and didn’t check that the nurse had followed her instruction.

Although the doctor was acquitted by Svendborg City Court, the higher Østre Landsret court later overturned that acquittal, handing out a fine of 5,000 kroner plus costs.

The three judges at the Østre Landsret sentencing said the error by the junior doctor “was not directly connected to the patient’s death”.

One of the key issues for doctors involved in the support campaign was the legal sentencing of a colleague for what is generally considered daily practice – namely, giving instructions verbally.

Doctors involved in the campaign told The Local last month that normalising legal pursuit over verbal communication would mean that doctors could be sued every day – hence the ‘it could have been me’ sentiment of the protest.

Doctors also feel that an individual has shouldered the blame for a tragic sequence of events symptomatic of a stressed healthcare system.

The Danish Nurses’ Association (Dansk sygeplejeråd, DSR) also supported the campaign, saying it wanted energy to be focused on improving the pressure placed on overburdened doctors and nurses, rather than reducing problems to individual faults.

READ ALSO: 'Blame for tragic case should not be individualised': nurses join Denmark doctors' campaign