Doctors threaten to stop conducting pregnancy ultrasound tests

They say amendments to regulate radiologists under the prohibition of sex determination Act irrational

 
By Sonal Matharu
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Radiologists across India are contemplating a nation-wide strike on August 1 to demand rollback of amendments introduced in the sex determination prohibition Act. The amendments to the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique (prohibition of sex selection) or PCPNDT Act of 1996 were published by the Ubion health ministry in the gazette notification on June 4. The amendments are meant to make the law more stringent.

The restrictive amendments
 
The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique (prohibition of sex selection) or PCPNDT Act now limits the movement of medical practitioners qualified to conduct ultrasound to only two sonography centres within a district.

This means the doctors can now be registered only at two such centres. Earlier, there was no restriction on the number of hospitals or sonography centres a sonographer or a radiologist could visit.

The Act has also increased the fee to start a sonography centre and assigns fixed working hours of a doctor at the sonography clinics
 
The Act now limits the movement of medical practitioners qualified to conduct ultrasound to only two sonography centres within a district. The doctors can now be registered only at two such centres. Earlier, there was no restriction on the number of hospitals or sonography centres a sonographer or a radiologist could visit. 
The strike threat came on the eve of the meeting of the health ministry's Central Supervisory Board on the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique (prohibition of sex selection) or PCPNDT Act of 1996. The board meets every six months to review the implementation of PCPNDT Act. The meeting is being held on July 20 in Shimla in Himachal Pradesh.

The Indian Radiological and Imaging Association (IRIA), an associtaion of radiologists, has objected to the amendment restricting their movement, saying it will create an artifical scarcity of radiologists in the country. “Poor patients and people living in areas difficult to reach will be the most affected. If doctors have to select only two centres they can serve at, sonography centres that are in the periphery will be dropped,” says Harsh Mahajan, president of IRIA.

He adds that many radiologists also serve at charitable hospitals, clinics run by trusts and religious institutes for low fees. When selecting between two centres, these clinics would be dropped. This would lead to fewer cheap options available for poor patients for investigations such as ultrasound.

NGOs working in the public health sector, however, welcome the amendments. “With no regulation, one radiologist’s name may be registered at five centres but he may not be practicing there. There have been cases where unqualified people are conducting ultrasound at these registered centres. So, it gets very difficult to identify who does the sex determination at the clinics,” says Rizwan Parwez, project manager, Centre For Advocacy and Research, a Delhi-based non-profit. With the new notification, now there will be some  regulation, he adds.

Radiologists associated with IRIA are contemplating a complete stop on conducting ultrasound on pregnant women, informs Mahajan. “We have written several times to the government, but have received no response from them. We will be left with no option now but to stop pregnancy ultrasound if the amendments are not withdrawn,” he says. 

Increasing the fee to start a sonography centre and assigning fixed working hours of a doctor at the sonography clinics are the other two amendments in the Act which the radiologists are opposing. IRIA filed a case in the Delhi High Court on July 9 against the Central government, challenging the amendments. They say that they were not consulted before such a step was announced. The first hearing of the case was held on July 10 when the government sought time to respond. The next hearing is scheduled to be held on July 23.

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