64.9 per cent cases of medical negligence pending in MMC

Council currently hearing cases filed in 2012-13, none of the complaints lodged in 2014-15 taken up yet.

Patients approaching the Maharashtra Medical Council (MMC) with complaints of medical negligence should be prepared for a long wait. With 64.9 per cent of the cases before it waiting to be heard, the MMC is struggling to clear the huge backlog. Data from the registrar office of the state statutory body shows none of the 111 and 82 cases filed in 2014 and 2015, respectively, were heard.

The MMC is the state branch of the Medical Council of India (MCI) that regulates ethical practices of allopathic doctors. Any doctor wishing to start practice has to first register with the MMC for a licence. The MMC can cancel or suspend the licence if the doctor is found indulging in any unethical practice. By taking care of medical cases, it also ensures less burden on courts.

According to Amar Jesani, editor at Indian Journal of Medical Ethics, the MMC received 1,134 complaints between 1995 and September 2015, of which it took action in 397 cases, which constitutes 35.1 per cent of the total complaints filed. Currently, it is hearing cases filed between 2012 and 2013. Of the 59 cases filed in 2012, 54 are pending, while of the 107 cases filed in 2013, 94 remain pending.

As per the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956, only a 10-member executive committee appointed by the MMC has the power to take a decision against any medical practitioner. The Act allows the committee to meet once in two months. “With such a less frequency of meetings, hearing all the cases and taking a decision in a time-bound fashion is difficult,” said Dr Shivkumar Utture, a member of the executive committee.

Besides, the council remained defunct from 1998 to 2010 following a Bombay High Court order that suspended the body due to irregularities in the election of members and maintenance of register. In the 12 years that it remained defunct, cases continued to be filed but remained unheard. The task of giving them a speedy hearing now lies on the shoulders of the newly appointed council in force since 2010.

“In order to speed up the process, we created three ethical committees that will hear cases and present its report to the executive committee to take a decision,” said Utture. The MMC’s five-member ethical committee sits twice a month to take up 20 to 30 cases in one hearing. It then presents its opinion to the executive committee, suggesting either dismissing the case or filing a chargesheet against the doctor if found guilty.

While the new system was set to provide quick redressal, the long-drawn process of stretching one case over multiple hearings has effectively delayed the decision in several cases. A case at hand is of Sushma Pandey, an egg donor who died in 2010 after the ovum pick-up procedure. Her mother filed a case with the MMC in October 2013. Till now, only four hearings have taken place, and a decision is pending.

An executive committee member also claimed that several times a doctor would not turn up for hearing despite receiving a notice, resulting in postponement of the hearing to another date.

“The disciplinary or grievance redressal function of the MMC should be strengthened and made free of conflict of interest by having, under the MMC, a tribunal chaired by a retired high court judge, and a majority members who are not doctors,” said Jesani.

According to MMC president Dr Kishor Taori, the spike in the number of patients approaching the council is another reason for delay in redressal of their problems. “MMC needs more powers to be able to quickly disperse cases,” he said.

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