In an intriguing twist to the debate about “medical negligence” — raging afresh after budding cricketer Rajnis Patel’s death at SSKM Hospital — a doctors-only body has emerged as a trusted tool for aggrieved patients.
The West Bengal Medical Council, a statutory state-level body, is now threatening to upstage the more conventional forums (like consumer, civil and criminal courts) for those with a grouse against members of the medical profession.
“We are happy that more and more people are approaching us, seeking redress against doctors who, they feel, have been negligent or irresponsible in their professional conduct,” said Council president Ashok Chaudhuri. “That indicates that people at large still have not lost all trust in the medical profession.”
If doctors as professionals had really become “really untrustworthy”, a statutory body solely comprising doctors would not have been considered a “viable weapon” against members of the same profession, Chaudhuri added.
The figures, say officials, tell only part of the story. “The number of cases against doctors we have received in the last calendar year is six times the figure of the year preceding that,” said a senior Council official. The graph has risen suddenly since 2002, say officials, with the complaint count climbing this year.
In 2000, only 15 cases against doctors were lodged with the Council, although scores of complaints were filed in various consumer courts, including the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, in the city and elsewhere. The number dropped to 13 in 2001, officials said.
The trend of not trusting a doctor to evaluate a fellow-doctor suddenly turned in 2002. “We received as many as 70 complaints last year, a significant leap over the previous year,” a senior Council official said, adding that though the current year’s figures cannot be made available, the complaint-to-a-doctor-about-a-doctor trend is here to stay.
“We can safely conclude that doctors are not being seen as biased in their opinion when it comes to judging a member of the same profession,” an official said. “This is a remarkable change from the past two decades, when there were years with only one or two complaints against physicians reaching us.”
The trend should pick up further, added officials. “The Supreme Court has recently issued a directive asking all medical councils to complete a probe within six months of receiving it,” a senior state council official said. “This should further enhance the trust people have in us,” he opined, adding that the Council statutes had been altered accordingly to speed up the process of dispensing justice.
The “healthy” percentage of convictions — 18 in the past three years — has further helped boost the Council’s credibility, feel officials. Besides, the feeling that only a doctor is qualified to judge the treatment by another doctor could have contributed to the rising numbers.