The patients went to the Donau-Ries Clinic in Donauwörth in northern Swabia to get well again. But in the operating room they were infected with a serious illness.
An anesthetist gave them his own hepatitis C infection he didn't know about - at least 51 people fell ill. "I'm very sorry," said the doctor at the beginning of the trial before the Augsburg Regional Court. The 60-year-old does not deny the infection transmitted during operations, but said: "Ultimately I can't explain how it happened."
The case triggered an ever-growing scandal from autumn 2018. At first, the health department assumed individual cases. Later, more than 1,700 men and women, all treated by the anesthetist, were asked to be tested for hepatitis C.
Compensation payments agreed
In around 60 of them, the authority saw evidence of transmission, but not all cases are now part of the criminal proceedings. According to the hospital's insurance company, it has now agreed to pay compensation for pain and suffering with most of those affected.
It is still unclear in detail how the transmission came about. The accused, who has since returned his medical license and is a pensioner, told the court that he had suffered from mental health problems and an intestinal disease for almost his entire medical career.
The man has worked as an anesthetist in a number of Bavarian hospitals since the 1990s, for example in Munich or in Weiden in the Upper Palatinate. After his time in Donauwörth, he was briefly employed in Aalen in Baden-Württemberg.
He had previously been at the Donauwörther Clinic for around a decade, most of the time as senior physician. In order to remain able to work despite his illness, he diverted the opiates intended for the operating theater and inject them himself. Once a nurse caught the man in the operating theater with a needle in his arm.
The court now wants to clarify how the anesthetist's blood could get into the patient's body. The 60-year-old emphasized that he had actually always separated the utensils and complied with the hygiene regulations. He denied a conscious infection of the patients. "That's not the case," he said. In the end, only 50 out of 1,700 patients were transmitted, he said.
Even before the trial, there had been talks between the judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys about a possible sentence. The man's lawyers brought up a suspended sentence, but the public prosecutor's office ruled that out. The prosecutors are more likely to face several years in prison for aggravated assault and other crimes such as embezzlement of the clinic's medication.
The criminal court now wants to hear numerous witnesses in twelve days of trial, a verdict could come in mid-July.