Let’s get real here. India has a sort of ‘pedigree’ when it comes to issuing well-intentioned rules which turn around and strike at the wrong players. Those in the medical profession have found themselves at the suffering end of this phenomenon, time and time again.

For one instance of putting rules or initiatives to the wrong use in the public sphere, we need to turn our attention to the beginning: birth, to be more precise. We are talking about the family planning initiative launched by Sanjay Gandhi, of course.

The initiative was meant to control the burgeoning population issue. However, the powers that be managed to convert it into a system for performing the maximum number of sterilizations, complete with “targets” to meet. And when targets entered the picture, the advent of such things as forced and fictitious sterilizations were perhaps inevitable.

The upshot of all this was that family planning became a misnomer for “state interfering too much”. And the criticisms which the likes of Indira Gandhi faced on this regard ensured that generations of political leaders who followed didn’t exactly upheld family planning as a principal strategy of governance.

Beneath the ashes of the failed family planning system, the population control issue got out of hand.

CPA- Empowering consumers or beating up the innocent doctors?

Coming to how doctors became victims of ill-implemented rules, one prime example is the Consumer Protection Act(CPA). Such an act is undoubtedly necessary-something which empowers the consumer to fight for their rights and move against sellers/shop owners , protected by a legal framework.

But when medical professionals were also included in the list of service providers, things began to get messy.

The summary process under CPA is now rather complicated. It costs time and money to tackle issues and the process can get too lengthy. In other words, it mimicked the characteristics of many civil litigations in the country. Initially, medical services were included in the CPA just to bring in cases of negligence. However, over time the interpretation of negligence has changed, making negligence cases too complicated and often unfair to the doctors.

For one thing, the summary process under CPA does not come equipped to provide formal justice. It’s only used to settle disputes in cases where medical negligence is alleged. The settling, more often than not results in doctors or hospitals having to grant arbitrary compensation awards.

While accountability is a pivotal aspect for the functioning of a democracy, what the medical community suffers is sheer persecution in the name of accountability. True, instances occur when the claim of negligence is well-founded. But one cannot turn away from the fact that instances of crassly alleging negligence is on the rise. Alarmingly so.

The rather skewed approach towards cases of alleged negligence has made consumers go through a long litigation process and many innocents in the medical community suffer immense psychological pain, not to mention the monetary cost it incurs. The average waiting time in National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission is now 8 years- a far cry from the 90 day decision window which everyone hopes for from a consumer court.
Compensations in medical cases sometimes run up to the Crores. And the process that leads to the decisions-whether finding the medical professionals guilty or not is long winded.

It could well be that CPA, for health professionals has resulted in an alarming rise in number of litigations and steadily falling doctor-patient relations.

PCPNDT-Draconian rule, anyone?

Then, there’s the PCPNDT Act- initiated with the aim of checking the falling sex ratio. Surely something the nation needs.
But 20 years since the Act was launched, we see that the sex ration among the 0 to 6 age group has actually declined. Now, the focus of the Act seems to have shifted to persecuting doctors for even minor technicalities or clerical errors.

Rather than a law suited to bring about a social change, what essentially emerged was a hastily drafted law the draconian provisions of which are pointed at innocent unltrasonologists and gynaecologists. While the killing of a female foetus just because of its sex should be seen for what it is-murder, incarcerating qualified gynaecs on the basis of clerical errors is not helping the case.

The state’s misguided/hurried implementations of rules and laws are severely hampering the practice of medicine in the country. The unfavourable scenario is causing many a youngster from opting out of a career in medicine. The country already faces a lack of enough doctors. Continuing on this stream is highly unlikely to encourage more to join the fraternity.

The basic idea of fulfulling the nation’s medical needs would thus become a hard-to-reach destination.

Reference: “Cause blindness to treat abdominal pain” by Dr Neeraj Nagpal (Convenor-Medicos Legal Action Group)

Image credits: The Indian Express
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