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Above: A doctor in a government hospital in Patna examines a child suffering from brain fever/Photo: UNI

Due to compromised Medical Councils, greedy corporate hospitals and their target-driven doctors have ended up treating patients like assembly lines for profit

Medical Negligence: Private Healthcare on Steroids

 

~By Jai Dehadrai

 

The Delhi Medical Council recently gave a clean chit to a large corporate hospital in the Capital where doctors had wrongly pronounced a newborn baby dead and handed over the cloth-wrapped body to the grief-stricken parents.

Luckily for the baby, tragedy was averted when his parents spotted some movement and realised that the doctors had negligently pronounced their child dead without even bothering to check for signs of life.

While the tragedy of a child being cremated alive was averted, the Delhi Medical Council’s perverse order giving a clean chit to the doctors and concerned hospital meant that justice had evaded that family.

This, despite the fact that in such stark cases of gross medical negligence, where the actions of the doctors are so obviously irresponsible, the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that even the mere occurrence of such acts are enough to imply negligence.

In other cases, the apex court has also said that doctors involved in heinous acts of negligence ought to be proceeded against under criminal law, be-sides having their licenses cancelled.

As a lawyer who regularly fights complex cases of medical negligence on behalf of victims and their families, I have frequently observed that the authorities mandated by law to act against negligent doctors, are strangely the ones protecting them.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

Even the composition of statutory Medical Councils are examples of glaring conflict of interest. They are made worse by the statistics on hand that prove that doctors just don’t prosecute other doctors, no matter how negligent or corrupt.

For those of you who think that my allegation of bias against medical regulators is merely anecdotal or perhaps stems from personal experience, consider this statistic (available on the Medical Council of India’s website)—the Medical Council of India has taken action only against 146 doctors since its inception in the late 1950s. When you juxtapose that measly figure against the estimated two lakh deaths a year attributable to medical negligence, you begin to understand the true extent of the crisis we are facing.

Thus, it is clear that officials of the Delhi Medical Council—much like their counterparts in other states—appear to have forgotten that their legal and moral responsibility lies in protecting the interests of patients and victims of medical negligence, and not in promoting the greedy interests of corporate hospitals and their target-driven doctors who merely treat patients like assembly lines for profit.

Is it any wonder, then, that the medical profession in India is presently facing its worst crisis of credibility? Patient trust is at an all-time low.

How many of us have noticed in our own circles that even the well-off now prefer consulting a government doctor than their better-heeled corporate counterparts?

There is no dearth of horror stories that reveal how profit-targets at glitzy chain-hospitals compel doctors to carry out surgeries and invasive procedures, where none are needed.

CORRUPT NEXUS

The situation is so bad that healthcare corruption is now an open secret in India, with even Prime Minister Narendra Modi acknowledging the problem when he spoke in London about the nexus between Indian doctors and pharmaceutical firms. He lamented that our medical professionals are now so crooked that it has become the norm for kickbacks in the form of foreign trips to be given to doctors.

Gone are the days when one’s family physician elicited genuine respect and admiration for the honest work he did—one could not imagine that a doctor could have any objective other than improving the health of his patient.

The saddest part about this entire crisis is that some quarters of the medical fraternity in India are up in arms against the prime minister’s observations—shooting off letters to him in protest instead of acknowledging that this is indeed a genuine and self-created problem, made worse by the advent of for-profit hospitals. This combination of private healthcare on steroids without any adequate regulatory mechanism to keep their unethical profiteering in check has led to a situation where our doctors are held accountable to none.

India desperately needs a full-time medical services regulator responsible for investigating and acting against corrupt hospitals and unqualified doctors—not a sleazy, biased and ineffective Medical Council which would rather keep itself busy handing out licenses to new hospitals.

—The writer practices in the Supreme Court and is an expert in Medical Negligence and Criminal Law

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