It is not in the interest of patients or doctors to remain on a collision course forever. While growing awareness among patients about their rights is a welcome trend, medical councils have to step up to the plate.
Aam aadmi (and aurat) at the high table in Delhi has buoyed the hopes of citizens’ groups across the country. As 2014 kicks in, be prepared to hear a lot more from one group whose interests have been long-neglected — the harried aam patient.
Over the past year, a series of developments suggests that patient activism is on the surge, and could be shaping the practice of medicine in this country.
People for Better Treatment (PBT), a citizens’ group which started on December 30, 2001, in Kolkata, is fanning out across the country. Last month new PBT branches sprung up in Delhi, Chennai and Hyderabad. Next on the list is Ahmedabad and possibly Lucknow. PBT’s goal is to raise public awareness about medical negligence. It is the brainchild of US-based
Dr Kunal Saha, whose wife Anuradha died due to negligence of doctors in a Kolkata hospital. Dr Saha fought a long, protracted battle for justice for nearly 15 years, boning up on toxic epidermal necrolysis in the process, and mobilising an international panel of experts to bolster his arguments.
Last October, the Supreme Court gave its judgment. The apex court’s ruling found three doctors of the private hospital, Advanced Medical Research Institute (AMRI), negligent in the civil case but dismissed the criminal complaint. The judgment grabbed headlines because of the unprecedented compensation amount in a medical negligence case in India — `5.96 crore plus interest for each of the 15 years — awarded to Dr Saha.
The landmark judgment of the apex court has unleashed a fierce debate on fair compensation for patients who suffer due to medical negligence. The medical fraternity led by the Indian Medical Association (IMA) and the Association of Healthcare Providers India (AHPI) is seeking a limit on the maximum amount that hospitals should be asked to shell out in such cases. Their argument: without a cap, hospitals will go bankrupt.
Patients’ groups such as PBT led by Dr Saha say that is not true.
Dr Saha says AMRI has not yet coughed up the compensation money. Instead, the hospital authorities have asked for an extension of the deadline to pay the sum. The Kolkata hospital has also partially resumed operations.
Dr Saha has responded by petitioning the Supreme Court against what he terms “deliberate violation” of its order. The case is listed for hearing early January.
The debate over a compensation cap is taking place in the backdrop of a Parliamentary Standing Committee on health’s report on the Indian Medical Council (Amendment) Bill 2013, introduced in the Rajya Sabha last March. The committee recommended that teams probing cases of medical negligence include external experts instead of just Medical Council of India (MCI) members.
“All of the members of the Medical Council of India are medical professionals and whenever any complaint of medical negligence or violation of code of ethics is brought before the council, such cases are decided by the medical professional themselves,” the committee noted.
The MPs recommended that all cases of medical negligence should be inquired into by a committee of experts drawn from various fields and experience, including social activists, patients’ representative and so on.
Although MCI is the regulatory body governing medical practice, there is growing concern that the few cases brought before it are not impartially decided as council members are very lenient towards their colleagues and hardly anyone is willing to testify that another doctor has been negligent. The fact that the MCI has been embroiled in various corruption scandals in the past adds to the concern.