Friday, March 15 2002

The Times of India

KOLKATA : A responsible national or state commission must be formed urgently to look into the ‘criminal acts’ being committed in the name of healthcare, said activists on Friday.

While Pharmacology speaks of barely seven hundred formulations, there are as many as 70 thousand drugs being sold in the country, many of which are harmful. Pointing an accusing finger at the Government, Dr Sujit Das of the National ‘Drug Action Network’ declared that while DAN had forced the government to declare over 7 thousand drugs as harmful and ‘illegal’, no follow-up action has been taken by the Government.

He was speaking at a panel discussion on Friday organised by Consumer Unity & Trust Society(CUTS). States, hospitals or even doctors have not been informed of the decision, Das alleged; drugs proscribed have not been withdrawn from the market and licenses issued earlier are yet to be withdrawn. As a result, doctors continue to prescribe the harmful drugs in their ignorance, he added.

In a gathering of lawyers, jurists and consumer activists, Das, himself a trained doctor, declared that in this country most of the doctors could be held guilty of negligence. Patients, he said, are not examined properly and often doctors do not follow the course prescribed in medical texts.

Also, lured by hefty commissions being offered by diagnostic centres, doctors, he said, are busy prescribing quite expensive but needless tests. As much as fifty per cent of the cost of a MRI examination or Rs 2,500, he said, are being paid to doctors prescribing such tests.

How many doctors can resist the temptation, he asked? Medical negligence and even unnecessary surgery are detected abroad as well. But in the absence of accountability here, the medical fraternity seldom exercises caution. Indeed, most doctors are not even aware that they are guilty of negligence, was his scathing remark.

It is difficult for the common man to collect sufficient evidence of medical negligence, put up sufficient funds to approach the court, persuade medical experts to give evidence and produce records from the hospitals to prove negligence of doctors. That is why , he felt, only a fraction of such cases were reaching the courts.

Accusing hospitals and doctors of tampering the records, Das said that in his experience the medical establishments hardly kept any record, fabricating them only when they become necessary or are to be produced before the court. Das advised courts to seek records in their entirety to detect tampering. “ A doctor who maintains records, would do so in all the cases.But if the court cares to look at records of all patients, it would find that in most cases records are perfunctory and meticulously written in cases being adjudicated by the court”, he said. It is already mandatory to keep record of all surgeries in the Operation Theater, he informed.

Prabir Basu, a lawyer, informed that a law is now already in place, making it obligatory for medical establishments to part with all relevant records to the patients. Das felt it was still not mandatory and records were being parted only when specifically asked for.

Justice S.C. Dutta, President, State Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission, took umbrage at trial by the Press and said that people need to be considerate and treat doctors more charitably. “They are also human beings and need time to be with their family,” he said, “ and genuine mistakes can occur anywhere”. The discussion was moderated by Dipankar Dey of CUTS.