Leading gastroenterologist Samiran Nundyco-editor of Healers or Predators?: Healthcare Corruption in India, spoke to Down To Earth about the corruption in the medical proffession. The book is an anthology of 41 investigative essays by doctors, public health academics, researchers, activists, civil society members and a journalist. His two co-editors are former Union health secretary Kesav Desiraju and Sanjay Nagral, a surgeon
Healers or Predators brings forth the dark side of the medical profession, especially corruption. How have doctors reacted to the book?
The reaction has been generally hostile. They say corruption is exaggerated in the book and further damages the poor doctor-patient relationship at present. But my colleagues say it is an accurate assessment of the situation. Majority of the CT scanning and other diagnostic laboratories give Rs 3,000 kickback to the referring doctor. For liver transplantation, this can reach up to Rs 2 lakh.
The title of the book ran into controversy, with some saying it was too harsh to call corrupt doctors predators. Do you agree?
The title accurately reflects the current situation where the main aim of doctors and hospitals is not to heal, but to prey on patients’ finances.
This is one of the landmark books on corruption. Do you think the problem must be voiced more often and more forcefully?
A lot needs to be done. Erring doctors and hospitals should be given exemplary punishment. It should be an ongoing campaign. Perhaps, we should have a medical ombudsman whom one consults before charging a doctor or a hospital.
In India, out-of-pocket expenditure on healthcare is one of the highest. How much does corruption contribute to this?
It is estimated that corruption increases healthcare cost by about 25 per cent.What makes doctors and hospitals indulge in corrupt practices? It is because of greed, corporate pressure and huge fees in private medical colleges where teaching is generally poor.
Can you suggest a tangible mechanism to tackle this?
The country must have a strong and honest Medical Council of India, and half its members should be common people. Erring doctors and corporate hospitals must be punished and de-registered. More investment in public sector hospitals is required and those should be protected from political interference.
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