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Medical monitor tightens screws

The code of ethics and conduct for doctors — and the procedures determining the punishment for any violation — has gone under the scalpel.

Officials said on Thursday the West Bengal Medical Council has started to rework the code following the indictment of two leading doctors in the Anuradha Saha death case. Kunal Saha had dragged three city doctors — Sukumar Mukherjee, Baidya Nath Haldar and Abani Roy Chowdhury — to court, holding them responsible for wife Anuradha’s death. A trial court upheld his complaint against consultants Mukherjee and Haldar.

In its wake, the growing trend of patients and their relatives dragging “negligent” doctors to court and the plummeting image of medicos have prompted the Council to embark upon this task. The changes that have already been drafted, coupled with a clause for a “much more stringent application” of the existing guidelines, will go a long way in reining in doctors who have made a “scapegoat of the community” by indulging in conduct that is both unprofessional and unethical, say senior WBMC officials. WBMC is the only statutory body in the state that can de-registering a practitioner found guilty of violating the guidebook for doctors.

Of the changes being planned, hauling up doctors for absenteeism without sufficient reason, imposing a time-frame for completion of cases against doctors and more dependence on “circumstantial evidence” for action against doctors are going to be the “most directly beneficial” for patients, feel WBMC officials.

Other norms — making it compulsory for physicians to queue up for at least 30 hours of continuing medical education every year, joining professional organisations with their own journals and making renewal of registration mandatory after every five years — will also make physicians handle patients better, add officials. “We are in the process of ratifying the changes,” WBMC president Ashoke Chowdhury told Metro. “The Council will meet this month and the changes will definitely become law by early-2003.”

Previously, the code of ethics did not make absenteeism an offence punishable by the WBMC. “If there’s anything that strikes fear in doctors’ hearts, it’s the threat of de-registration,” say officials, adding that one of the “main components of allegations of negligence” is absenteeism when the doctor is needed most.

Another new introduction — that of imposing a deadline of six months on itself for completing a case lodged against a physician — will allow ex-parte hearings against physicians if the Council finds them evading legal action. “It has also been decided that we will depend more on circumstantial evidence while probing allegations of rude behaviour and maltreatment,” Chowdhury said.

Following similar modifications in the Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations, 2002, sex-determination tests and “unethical use of patients in experiments” will also be brought within the ambit of punishment by the WBMC.

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