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Doctors’ British ‘junket’ in MCI glare

- NGO claims drug company funded MP medic group’s six-day pleasure trip

New Delhi, June 18: India’s apex regulator for medics has started hearings on a complaint that a drug company financed a pleasure trip to Britain for several doctors and their families.

A non-government organisation, the Swasthya Adhikar Manch, filed the complaint two years ago against a group of doctors based in Madhya Pradesh but the state regulator did not act on it.

The Medical Council of India (MCI) last Thursday heard presentations by the Manch, which claimed a drug company named Intas had paid for the May 25 to 30, 2012, trip to England and Scotland.

In June 2012, the Manch had complained to the MCI, which regulates licensing and practice by doctors in India, that the doctors had breached the ethical regulations imposed on them by the MCI by accepting the drug company’s hospitality.

The complaint is backed up with purported copies of air tickets and documents outlining the six-day trip’s itinerary with the names of the drug company and a travel agency imprinted on top of the pages.

The itinerary appears to outline a sightseeing trip from Delhi or Mumbai to Glasgow, Edinburgh and London with visits to popular spots, including Loch Ness, castles and shopping sites in London.

The MCI had asked the Madhya Pradesh state medical council to probe the allegations, but the state council returned the complaint to the MCI. The Manch says the doctors whose names appear on the air tickets claimed to the state council they had spent personal funds for the trip.

“We don’t know why the state council declined to act on this. Maybe it believed it lacked the competence to scrutinise the documents we’d submitted,” said Chinmay Mishra, a representative of the Manch, which has been campaigning for the rights of patients.

At the meeting with the MCI last Thursday, Manch member Amulya Nidhi presented documents that he claims show discrepancies in the bills or receipts that the doctors have submitted as evidence that they paid for the trip themselves.

“The documents suggest some large payments were made in cash and there are also discrepancies in the dates and receipt numbers,” Nidhi said. The Manch has underscored that while all the doctors lived in Madhya Pradesh, the travel agency they chose was in Calcutta.

“We’ve long suspected such things keep happening, but there is little evidence to prove it,” Nidhi said. “But when evidence becomes available, as in this case, we would like the MCI to take action against the doctors for violating the MCI’s own regulations.”

The MCI, amid concerns that drug companies were giving doctors gifts to influence their prescriptions to patients, had in 2010 revised its ethical regulations, prohibiting doctors from accepting payments, gifts or hospitality from the pharmaceutical industry.

Nidhi said the MCI committee that heard Thursday’s presentation appeared “attentive and willing to respond” to the complaint.

“We showed them the discrepancies in the receipts that suggest that the company had paid for the trip,” Nidhi said.

Intas officials were not immediately available to comment on the documents presented by the Manch to MCI. Two persons, identified in the documents as “tour escorts” and whose mobile telephone numbers appear on the documents, when contacted by The Telegraph, declined to say anything about the case.