ASOKE CHOWDHURY, president, West Bengal Medical Council, met readers of The Telegraph at BA 146, Salt Lake City. Participants included Anil Mukherjee, Arun Moitra, Kanti Mukherjee and Nirmal Kumar Das
Anil Mukherjee: If there is a complaint of negligence against doctors, how can one proceed' What is the role of the Medical Council (MC) in this respect'
The MC is a statutory body, formed as per the Bengal Medical Act, 1914, that was amended in 1954. The purpose of the MC is to register all medical practitioners who practise the modern system of medicine. The MC takes penal action against anyone who violates the code of medical ethics, which means that a doctor, being a professional person, should follow a code of ethics that has been framed by the Indian Medical Council and the State Medical Council.
It should be remembered that the latter is an independent body. It is not directly under the Indian Medical Council and nor is it a branch. The West Bengal Medical Council, incidentally, registers all doctors who possess a degree or diploma as recognised by the Medical Council of India.
Now, most of the doctors who have qualified in the state are registered with the West Bengal Medical Council. Hence, it holds penal jurisdiction against these doctors. If, however, any one lodges a complaint against any doctor registered with state Council through Medical Council of India, the national Council has no option but to send the complaint to the state Council. The Medical Council of India is not authorised to take any action.
If you have any grouse against a doctor registered with the state Council, the best course would be to lodge a complaint with registrar of the state Council, along with the relevant papers.
Arun Moitra: We hear about delays in taking action against errant doctors. What is the reason' Investigations, we are told, have to be completed within six months. Why can’t cases be settled within that time frame'
To understand the reasons for the delay, one has to go through the entire process of investigation.
We have certain procedures to follow, which are specified in the rules of the West Bengal Medical Council. Whenever we receive a complaint, we have to make sure that all the relevant papers are supplied. If not, then we have to write to the complainant to send all the relevant papers. And then we write to the doctor concerned for his version. If more doctors are involved, we have to write to all of them. If the case involves a hospital or a nursing home, they have to be written to as well. They also have to furnish the relevant documents from their end.
In some cases, the complaint has been lodged with the police. Then, we have to get hold of the documents from them. If a patient is taken outside the state, we have to locate him or her and fish out the address. Sometimes, repeated letters, particularly to the government hospitals, elicit no response.
Besides, if the doctor complained against stays abroad, he can ask for time to reply.
After receiving all the papers, the complaint is placed before the president of the state Council for his comment. If he finds that, prima facie, a case exists against the doctor, he refers it to ‘a penal and ethical cases committee’ for investigation.
The committee calls all the parties involved, including the doctor, and interrogates them. It seeks the opinion of experts and then prepares a report. That report is submitted to the council, comprising 27 members.
Then, if prima facie guilt is established against a doctor, further investigation will follow so a chargesheet can be framed. The doctor is obliged to reply to the chargesheet and for this, the case papers are supplied to him. Both complainant and doctor have to appear before the Council, in person or represented by a lawyer. The Council then meets and decides by two-thirds majority whether the doctor is guilty or not and the form of punishment. The doctor is either barred from practice or suspended for a period. He can also be issued a warning that is inscribed in his registration or face censure.
Nirmal Kumar Das: It is alleged that the Medical Council is hesitant in taking action against errant doctors. Is it true'
Secondly, what salaries do members of the Council draw'
That is a complaint I believe is not correct. There have been occasions when some eminent doctors were removed from the profession, as in the 1980s. In the Council, all the members’ posts, including that of the president, are honorary.
Anil Mukherjee: How much does it cost to lodge a complaint'
No money is required to lodge a complaint.