Quackery, Negligence And Ethical Violations Are Rampant In Tamil Nadu, But Medical Council Caught In Turf Battles
Tamil Nadu may need a shorter prescription for boosting its health system compared to other states, but there seems to be no cure for this disease that's eating away at the heart of healthcare. Quackery , medical negligence and ethical violations have become a mainstay , and no one is raising a finger.
In the past five months TOI reports have exposed a woman who fooled her way through the medical education system through impersonation, a doctor who pulled the plug on the life-sustaining ventilator her father was connected to, and former ward boys treating mentally ill patients. They all made headlines. But cases against them have not made any headway , and they continue with the practices that blemish the profession.
Infighting in the state medical council, the absence of an anti-quackery committee, and lack of of the police and health departments have all converted the state into a hotbed for quacks and a playground for errant doctors.
The Tamil Nadu medical council's disciplinary committee found at least four doctors guilty of misconduct in two different cases. In the first case, a medical student died following a hair transplant at a salon in Nungambakkam. The second involved a doctor trying to kill her 82-year-old father by pulling the plug after getting his thumb impression on a set of papers.
In the hair transplant case, the committee found the accused, Dr Hari Prasad Kasturi and Dr Arthur Vaneeth Suryakumar, guilty of conducting the surgery at a facility where there was no emergency equipment. They also found that Dr Suryakumar was not qualified to do the surgery. But action has not been initiated against them as the council has a formality of ratifying decisions made by the disciplinary committee in the general council, which is mired in internal politics.
"It's not required, but it has been the practice," said Dr K Senthil, whose presidentship was challenged in the court by some members of the council in August."The council has not been convened because there is no clarity on who will chair the meeting. Several important files are pending. No decision has been made yet," he said. Meanwhile, his colleague, Dr J A Jayalal, who claims to be the president in-charge, said the fight for the top post had gone on for far too long. "We did not expect the legal formalities to extend this long. We will wait till this weekend. If no decision is taken, we will start issuing notices to these erring doctors by Monday ," he said.
While errant doctors continue to be a thorn in the system, a bigger public health malaise is the thriving quack culture. Worse, they are nurtured by the system and are familiar with the lacuna in the laws. A recent investigation by TOI revealed that former ward boys in the state-run Institute of Mental Health (IMH) have started their own nursing and rehab centres without licenses. The eluctance to put up a list of the licensed homes on its website shows the lack of transparency.
Repeated attempts to meet IMH director A Kalaichelvan have proved futile. A former director said although the state mental health authority , housed in IMH campus, is the licensing body , its wings were clipped because of manpower crunch. "There is just one professor in the committee who is tasked with enforcement," he said. The same person has to discharge other regular duties like teaching and treating patients.
The Tamil Nadu chapter of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) estimates there are around 30,000 quacks in the state, most of them in rural areas.
It usually takes a death for a quack to come under the scanner. In the most recent instance, it took the death of more than half a dozen children in Tiruvallur.Officials caught 28 fake practitioners. All of them were quick to bail themselves out with a meagre fine of `1,000. Some have resumed practice. Director of medical services Dr K Senguttuvan said the state health department is planning to amend legislation to ensure the guilty will have to serve a jail term not less than seven years with or without fine.