The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Black-coat bail-out for docs in the dock

Of doctors, for doctors, but very much by lawyers. For, anything goes to save docs in the dock.

With a sharp rise in the number of patients dragging doctors and medical establishments to court, a large section of the legal machinery has sprung into action, to lend the medicos under fire a helping hand.

Take the case of Sanderson and Morgan. As a separate entity, one of the partners formed the legal backbone of the East India Company. The two merged in 1933. Seven decades later, the firm has engaged a separate wing — comprising advocates A.K. Sil and P.K. Dutta — to deal specifically with cases of medical negligence.

“We have a branch in Delhi to take care of the cases that go up to the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission,” said advocate Dutta, adding that he and his colleague had to pick up quite a bit of technical know-how to save the doctors.

Two other organisations, Medef and Medeco, have come forward to bolster the health-care service-providers as they battle in court to salvage their reputation and their practice. Both claim membership figures running into thousands and one of them (Medef) has even reached out to beleaguered doctors beyond the boundaries of Bengal.

Medef employs more than 10 people and Medeco 18. Medef is called on to handle about 50 new cases every year and the number of cases on its table at present would be around 125. Medeco, too, gets a comparable number of cases every year.

“The rush among doctors and medical establishments to get themselves enrolled with an organisation that promises to handle things they are not very sure about is understandable,” said Prabir Basu, spokesperson for the Consumers’ Unity and Guidance Forum. “Professional legal help seems to save many more doctors than consumers,” he added.

The rush, admitted Medef chief executive officer Gita Chatterjee, began with the spurt in the number of medical negligence cases in consumer courts.

A thick red book — for “enrolments 2002-’03” — bears testimony to the fact that the office on Bishop Lefroy Road is a busy one. The organisation charges its members an annual service fee and gets them insured for legal expenses.

“Whenever one of our members gets a legal notice, we refer it to our solicitors or a lawyer of the doctor’s choice and meet the entire legal expenses (to be reimbursed later by the insurance agency),” explained Chatterjee.

Doctors are insured according to their ‘risk-perception’. “The highest insurance protection is given to anaesthetists and plastic surgeons, as they are most likely to face litigation,” said Chatterjee. Next in the legal line are general surgeons and specialists (like cardiologists or dermatologists), followed by general physicians.

“Previously, most doctors would tell our marketing team to come back later,” said Medeco manager Prabir Bhattacharya. “Now, we hardly encounter a refusal from any doctor or medical establishment of repute.”

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