A surgeon in Austria who went to his private practice in the middle of a heart operation on a 77-year-old who later died is facing jail.
The incident took place at the Kepler University Hospital in Linz in the state of Upper Austria and a spokesperson for the Linz public prosecutor is now investigating the doctor for “grossly negligent homicide.”
Spokeswoman Ulrike Breitenender added that if convicted: “The accused may face up to three years in prison.”
An autopsy has been conducted on the deceased patient, who has not been named. The results will only be available in a few weeks, as tissue samples still need to be analysed.
According to Austrian media, the doctor, who has not been named either because of local privacy laws, left the operating theatre for an appointment at their private practice.
The doctor, a senior physician, handed over the operation to an assistant doctor. The 77-year-old patient had been taken to hospital by helicopter and required surgery for an aortic tear.
Austrian media report that the senior physician left the operating theatre at a time when the operation was still in a critical phase.
The patient died after difficulties due to the operation.
The medical director of the Kepler University Hospital, Ferdinand Waldenberger, confirmed the events to local media.
Waldenberger said that the doctor returned after 45 minutes and realised that the patient could no longer be saved.
As well as three years in prison, the doctor faces a professional ban from the Chamber of Physicians.
An expert opinion from a court-sworn expert has also been commissioned, which will probably be available towards the end of May.
The expert will have to clarify “whether it is responsible that the senior doctor leaves the room, whether it is common practice” and whether there is a connection between the doctor’s behaviour and the patient’s death.
For Waldenberger, while it is permissible for a senior physician to leave the operating room during a procedure, they must remain within reach and it must be ensured that their colleague can continue the operation.
Austrian media report that Waldenberger believes that, given that an assistant doctor is not a specialist, the senior doctor should not have left.
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