MCI step welcome, but will it work?

24 September, 2015

The report that the Medical Council of India (MCI) has proposed disciplinary action against 130 doctors for professional misconduct would be welcomed by everyone. But the sobering reality is that the proposals for action would remain on paper and the errant doctors may not be affected. The doctors are to be punished for medical negligence and other violations of professional ethics. They are to be barred from practice for periods varying from one month to seven years. There are elaborate provisions for investigation of complaints against doctors who indulge in malpractices and for taking action against them. Some of these provisions were put in place on directions from the Supreme Court. The procedure for action involves both the MCI and the state medical councils. Complaints against doctors have to be investigated in a time-bound manner and appeals can be filed against the decisions of state councils to the MCI by aggrieved parties.

But the entire process has become farcical as the punishments do not actually take place. Complainants have to travel many times to attend hearings. Their time and energy ultimately go waste. The latest list of 130 doctors also may not be taken seriously because such lists are published very frequently without the necessary follow-up actions. Though the state medical councils have to suspend the registration of doctors against whom action is proposed, they do not do that. They sleep on the MCI’s directions. The MCI is also not keen in enforcing its directions, giving the impression that it is only going through the motions of taking action. Very often the state councils keep delaying the action so that the guilty doctors get a chance to go to court and secure a stay order. The matter then gets bogged down in prolonged legal procedures. There are also instances where fresh investigations are launched against doctors who were already found guilty after proper investigations. These are all obstructionist tactics which finally ensure that the errant doctors get away with no punishment.

The malpractices and unethical actions are many. Many doctors accept costly gifts, including even cars and flats, and favours like sponsored foreign travels 
from pharmaceutical firms for prescribing to patients medicines manufactured by them. This results in the prescribing of unnecessary medicines and inflation of prices. Negligence and misconduct take many other forms too. The MCI, which is the regulator, has a very unsavoury reputation. Its duties are to ensure that 
doctors’ conduct is ethical and patients’ interests are protected. It often fails in these duties.