Under the current framework, only medical practitioners and professionals are allowed to file appeals before the Ethics and Medical Registration Board
The Union health ministry has finally proposed amendments to the National Medical Commission (NMC) Act, 2019. If finalised, the amendments will allow patients to appeal against erring doctors.
The amendments are in line with a November 2003 Supreme Court judgement directing the Medical Council of India to incorporate provisions in the Ethics Regulations such that patients can seek action against doctors on the grounds of professional misconduct or medical negligence.
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The bill aims “to provide provision for patients/their relatives/complainant to prefer an appeal in the Ethics and Medical Registration Board (EMRB)/National Medical Commission against the decision/action of the State Medical Council in complaints related to medical negligence/professional misconduct,” the ministry noted in a public notice issued December 29, 2022.
In the 30 days since the notice was issued, the public and stakeholders can send suggestions, comments and objections to the health ministry before the finalisation of the notification.
Under the current framework, as per Section 30(3) of the NMC Act 2019, only medical practitioners and professionals are allowed to file appeals before the Ethics and Medical Registration Board.
This was reiterated in the fourth meeting of the NMC held in October 2021, where clarifications were sought regarding the jurisdiction of EMRB under the aforementioned section of the NMC Act allowing patients to file appeals.
The only viable option for them right now is to take judicial recourse, which has routinely been characterised by “interminable delays,” a Times of India editorial noted.
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The current framework is in violation of an over two-decade-old Supreme Court order, after which the Indian Medical Council issued a gazette notification updating the (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations, 2002.
The following observation is made under Chapter 8 of these regulations:
Any person aggrieved by the decision of the State Medical Council on any complaint against a delinquent physician, shall have the right to file an appeal to the MCI within a period of 60 days from the date of receipt of the order passed by the said Medical Council.
The regulations have provisions for extending the window of appeal to another 60 days if the MCI is “satisfied that the appellant was prevented by sufficient cause from presenting the appeal within the aforesaid period.”
Dr KV Babu, a registered medical practitioner and RTI activist from Kerala, has been incessantly working on this. His efforts on this front have shed light on the magnitude of the issue.
In response to his RTI application, the NMC noted at least 65 appeals filed by patients questioning decisions made by several state medical councils were rejected in 2021 alone based on non-maintainability under section 30(3) of the NMC Act.
Dr Babu maintains that rejecting these 65 appeals is illegal since both the NMC Act and the (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations, 2002 co-exist. Only the former is cited as the reason for rejection, completely ignoring the applicability of the latter.
“When the NMC Act 2019 was introduced, it should have incorporated the observations made in the Supreme Court order into the act itself. But even then, patients still have the right to appeal because the ethics code is still applicable,” he told Down To Earth.
The move is welcome and has been preceded by a long, continuous fight, he added.
Another key amendment being proposed to the NMC Act 2019 is the introduction of a fifth autonomous body — Board of Examinations in Medical Sciences — to conduct a two-part exam for the registration of doctors.
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