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Medical clean-up test for Kejriwal

New Delhi, Jan 8: Kunal Saha, the US-based physician who won a 15-year old personal battle to establish that his wife had died from medical negligence by doctors in Calcutta, has urged the Aam Aadmi Party to clean up what he says is corruption in India’s medical circles.

Saha, who is a member of the non-government group called People for Better Treatment (PBT), today met Satyendra Kumar Jain, the AAP health minister in the Delhi government, seeking the party’s support to combat corruption in the apex and state medical councils.

India’s Supreme Court had awarded Saha a compensation of Rs 6.08 crore in October last year for the death of his wife Anuradha in 1998 after she had received inappropriate treatment by doctors associated with the AMRI Hospital in Calcutta.

“We’ve won Anuradha’s battle, but patients and their families across the country are still suffering the consequences of corruption in the medical profession,” Saha said after the meeting with Jain that was also attended by members of the PBT and aggrieved families.

“This war isn’t over — we believe the root of the problem lies in corruption in the medical councils — they are the regulators, the watchdogs, if we clean them, half the job is won,” Saha told The Telegraph.

The PBT’s move towards the AAP comes amid concerns among patient groups that the Medical Council of India, India’s apex licensing and regulatory body for doctors and state councils are not doing enough to investigate or punish doctors who’ve breached ethics or been accused of negligence.

Poroma Rebello, a senior executive with a shipping and logistics company in New Delhi, turned to the AAP after what she says was an “agonising and shattering” experience trying to convince medical councils that her father died from medical negligence by doctors in two private hospitals in Delhi.

Rebello’s 84-year old father, a former Indian Air Force officer died from what she claims were hospital-acquired infections and septicaemia in December 2010 after a period of negligence during which he was not treated with appropriate antibiotics despite signs of serious infection.

“We had a hearing at the MCI last June — but none of the panel members identified themselves, and we could sense this nudge-and-winks going on between the panel members,” said Rebello, who along with her sister Shoma Munshi had submitted dozens of pages of their father’s hospital records to establish their claim of negligence.

“We sensed we were not going to get a fair hearing in that room — and we’ve not heard anything from the MCI since then,” Rebello told this newspaper.

“AAP says it stands against corruption — we’re now looking for its support in curbing corruption in the medical profession,” said Rebello who was among those who met AAP minister Jain today. “This is an area where wrongdoing by doctors can harm patients and ruin families.”

Although the medical councils are run by doctors and expected to take independent decisions based on professional competence, Saha said, there is a need for organisations like the AAP to at least indirectly try and reform the councils.

Sections of doctors themselves have often expressed concern at the MCI’s inaction against unethical practices by doctors. A document available with this newspaper suggests that the MCI has not yet implemented a punishment recommended by its own ethics committee against four doctors who had “caused undue harassment” to a Kerala-based opthalmologist who had complained against the Indian Medical Association, a private body of doctors, for violating ethics by endorsing commercial products.

The document, which has not been independently verified, suggests that the ethics committee in its meeting in June 2013 had ruled that the four doctors should be disallowed from practising medicine for a period of one year for causing harassment to ophthalmologist K.V. Babu.

One of the four doctors told this newspaper today that he had not received any such communication from the MCI. The MCI has not responded to queries from The Telegraph sent on Tuesday on why the ethics committee’s June recommendations had not been implemented.

“Doctors appear to be colluding to protect themselves,” said Meenakshi Jain, an advocate with the Supreme Court, who has been trying to establish that her father had died in a Delhi hospital through negligence on the part of treating doctors.

Jain said an inquiry panel set up by a government medical college in Delhi had agreed there was negligence, but this ruling was turned down by the Delhi Medical Council without any explanation for the change in stance. “They don’t answer any of the questions we raise,” Jain said.