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Arrest breather for doctors

After frenetic lobbying by the Indian Medical Association (IMA) and other doctors’ lobbies, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government is set to direct the police not to arrest any doctor on the charge of negligence without first consulting an experts’ panel.

“All cases of negligence involving doctors will have to be referred to an expert committee for a considered opinion before addressing the charges and effecting any arrest. We have initiated the process of enforcing the new directive from January,” state health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra said.

The IMA has been pressing the government for some time to ensure that doctors are not arrested on charges of negligence filed by patients’ families before obtaining opinions from professional bodies. For the record, 20 doctors have been arrested this year on complaints filed by patients or their relatives and friends.

“The figures were comparatively few last year. What worries us is the new trend of police making indiscriminate arrests despite the chief minister’s assurance,” said IMA president Subir Ganguly.

An IMA delegation met Bhattacharjee in the presence of Surjya Kanta Mishra and other officers a few days ago and brought this to his notice.

A state-level committee, comprising senior police officers, eminent lawyers, doctors and public figures, will be formed.

“The chief minister told us that a similar committee at the district level would be formed to look into the controversial cases,” said IMA secretary Moloy Patra. The police will refer all cases of negligence to the committee, after filing an FIR against a doctor from the aggrieved patient’s family. The course of action against the doctor will depend on the committee's report.

The police, however, are free to arrest a doctor if he is charged with culpable homicide, cheating or any other offence under the sections of the Indian Penal Code, except for cases that are technical by nature. “We have always maintained that a doctor is not above the law and he can be arrested if the offence is of a different nature. But, how can the police pass judgment on technical issues which they are not likely to understand'” asked IMA secretary Patra.

A few weeks ago, New Barrackpore police sought the IMA's opinion after a patient’s family had lodged a murder case against a local doctor after the patient died.

The police immediately sought the IMA's opinion before taking any action. “We appointed a committee, comprising doctors, lawyers and local residents, who found the doctor guilty. He was arrested soon afterwards,” said Patra.

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