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State cell to probe medical negligence

Harried by a spate of charges of medical negligence, the West Bengal government will set up a cell comprising retired judges to ensure “proper and speedy” disposal of cases of deaths by alleged negligence.

“Such cases are handled by departmental officers who have to take time off their work and officiate as investigating officers to hear the cases. This delays resolution of the cases. There is a general feeling that the judgment could never be unbiased since ruling officers are from the department itself,” director of medical education C.R. Maity said.

Embarrassed by the outrage at the deaths at B.C. Roy Memorial Hospital for Children, a health department spokesman said: “We had, for a long time, been thinking aloud about the necessity of appointing such an independent body to clear a large number of pending cases. The cell will probe the role of nurses and other medical staff.”

“Health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra, who had recently reviewed the scenario in the health department, cleared the proposal for timely resolution of cases so that an errant doctor could be punished during the tenure of his service,” Maity said.

So far, the process has been so time-consuming that a doctor was suspended for negligence long after he had retired.

The state human rights commission has observed that it was high time the health department took action to expedite the process of consumer protection. The health department was faced with several problems because its officers were carrying out the investigations.

First, engaging a health officer for investigation meant that he had to be taken off his normal work schedule for 10 to 15 sittings. This is something the health department could ill afford. Again, without legal knowledge the health officer is not “the best of judges” to try a case.

“The move to rope in legal personnel is aimed at infusing transparency and impartiality into the system,” Maity explained. Nonetheless, health department officers will be represented.

Medical experts will be involved in assisting the judges. The experts’ medical knowledge would be of help in matters related to negligence of a doctor or wrong diagnosis, he added.

Though the Vigilance Commission will continue to function as the final investigating authority, it can intervene in a medical case only after a recommendation by the investigation cell trying the cases.

The cell will deal with any complaint whatsover against doctors. It could be against a doctor not allegedly attending his patient, involved in improper treatment, wrong diagnosis, wilful negligence of duty or bribery for granting licences to nursing homes and admitting patients to hospitals.

A case could be initiated if a teaching doctor is caught indulging in private practice during office hours. If a doctor is booked by the investigation cell, he will be punished in accordance with the existing rules.

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