The Consumer Protection Bill 2018: Doctors dismayed

February 6, 2019 0 By FM

With the Lok Sabha passing The Consumer Protection Bill 2018, medical practitioners in the country are concerned over various provisions in the bill.

The bill, which is sent to Rajya Sabha for passage, will replace the three-decade-old Consumer Protection Act of 1986. Medical practitioners fear that if Rajya Sabha too passes the bill in the same form, it will trigger several issues in the medical field.

“The Indian Medical Association, the umbrella organisation of all modern medical practitioners in the country, is very much concerned about many of the provisions of the Consumer Protection Bill 2018 and we feel that this move will cause further increase in treatment costs, make healthcare unaffordable and inaccessible to weaker sections of the society, promote corporatisation of healthcare, eliminating smaller hospitals, and will make implementation of public funded health programmes difficult,” said Dr Jayakrishnan A. V., Chairman, IMA Hospital Board of India, Kerala Chapter.

Though the Consumer Protection Act of 1986 passed by the parliament didn’t bring the medical profession under its purview, it was brought under the act following the verdict of Supreme Court in Indian Medical Association vs V. P. Shanta and Ors. Since then, the topic has sparked off numerous discussions. It has once again become a topic of discussion among medical fraternity and consumer activists with the Lok Sabha passing the bill.

Hefty penalty
The bill proposes consumer disputes redressal commissions at national, state and district levels to deal with consumer complaints. The district level body will comprise a president and at least two members and the state and national level bodies will have a president and at least four members. The president and members will be appointed by the central government as per the bill. A major highlight of the bill is that it empowers the district level consumer disputes redressal commissions to award monetary compensation of up to Rs 1 crore against Rs 20 lakh in The Consumer Protection Act 1986. The state-level body can award up to Rs 20 crore against previous Rs 1 crore. As per the bill, not only individuals but associations and other bodies can also file a complaint with the consumer forums.

Even though IMA proposed certain suggestions regarding the draft bill 2015 that was put in the public domain, it was not considered in the 2018 bill. Now, the body has approached Rajya Sabha members to consider the suggestions made by them in the bill. The suggestions made by IMA include seeking expert opinion before taking up a case of medical negligence by consumer fora. According to the association, it has been emphasized by the Supreme Court in Martin F. D’ Souza vs Mohd. Ishfaq case.

No judicial concept?
The association feels that the very high compensation proposed in the bill may result in an increase in frivolous litigations. “The medical profession will have to bear the brunt of higher compensation proposed in the bill. The compensation awards in medical negligence cases need to be capped,” said Dr Jayakrishnan. Medical practitioners also demanded that litigations against the medical professionals by organisations or associations should not be allowed. They further demand that representatives of IMA have to be included in the consumer mediation cells, and district, state and national consumer councils. “At present, consumer forums comprise judicial members. But the new bill does not have the judicial concept. We are not against judicial scrutiny, but it should be done by civil courts,” he added. Another demand of the medical practitioners is for imposing sufficient penalty for frivolous complaints against medical professionals.

Meanwhile, consumer rights protection activists feel that the bill will make the medical profession more accountable. “The provisions in the bill will enable people to approach district forums within 48 hours in cases of medical negligence by accessing medical records under Right to Information,” said activist and advocate D. B. Vinu. However, he said that some of the concerns raised by medical practitioners are justifiable. “Now the district forums can award compensation up to Rs 1 crore. But the question is whether the forum is professionally capable to deal with such cases,” he said.

 

What IMA wants to include*

1. Expert opinion should be sought before taking up a case of medical negligence by consumer fora. This has been emphasized in the judgement by Martin D’Souza Vs Mohammed Ishaq read in 2009(3) SCC-1
2. Very high compensation awards in some cases have given rise to a greater number of frivolous litigations and hence the compensation awards in medical negligence cases to be capped
3. Litigations against medical professionals by organisations or associations should not be allowed.
4. Representatives of Indian Medical Association have to be included in the consumer mediation cells and district, state and national consumer councils.
5. Provisions for imposing sufficient penalty for frivolous complaints against medical profession to be introduced.
*The Indian Medical Association placed certain suggestions regarding the draft bill 2015 which were not considered in the 2018 bill.