The Medical Council of India (MCI) has renewed the ethical guidelines under the Indian Medical Council Regulations, defining punishment for errant doctors for the first time, based on the value of favours and freebies received from drug companies.
If came into effect, the move would be a giant step towards moralization in the field of medical science. The decision by the MCI to punish those engaged in fraud that exploits destitute patients is laudable. The council as well as the Union Health Ministry has been receiving complaints related to the issue from states like Andra Pradesh, Telangana and Maharashtra. But it failed to take necessary steps of offering relief to the poor who fall prey to the ‘drug abuse’ of the doctors receiving perks from the drug companies. The perks from the bigwig pharma companies start from home appliances to monthly earnings coming up to lakhs and foreign tours. The ethics committee under the MCI receives complaints about physicians accepting gifts, favours, travel facilities and hospitality from the companies following which the doctors are given warnings. However the lack of stringent measures has aggravated the present crisis. This might have led to the latest decision by the MCI. As per the new set of ethics guidelines, any doctor accepting gifts worth Rs 5000 to Rs 10, 000 from pharma companies would lead to the deletion of their name from the state/ national medical register of doctors for three months. They would also not be allowed to practice during that period as no doctor can practice medicine without registration with either the state or central medical councils. Those who are found accepting freebies priced more than lakhs, would see their name removed from the register for a year.
The association between the drug companies and the doctors has been in existence for long. Most of the drugs that are used for the treatment of common ailments come in 100 to 200 brands. Creating a new market space amidst the tough competition is what has led the companies to go off beam in order to have the doctors in their pockets. It all starts with the harmless ‘friendship ties’ and the free gifts. Madhyamam Daily had earlier exposed the shameful tales of doctors who get trapped in the web of such companies and also the pharma companies themselves. Rotting stories of reclaiming gifts like home appliances and cars using goons when the doctors refuse to prescribe drugs in the interests of company after receiving their perks had also come to light then. The ethical guidelines set by the MCI in 2002 bans doctors from taking freebies and money from the drug companies and institutions in the field of healthcare. The license of those violating the law would be suspended for up to two years. The ethics committee of the MCI had in May last year, initiated disciplinary action against 40 doctors from Andra Pradesh and Telangana for illegal ties with a pharma company in Allahabad.
The physicians who received monthly payments ranging from Rs 2 lakh to Rs 4 lakh from half a dozen drug companies and received foreign trips 4-5 times, would in return, prescribe medicines of high cost manufactured by the companies for blood pressure and diabetes patients. During the two day inquiry by the committee, the doctors going on frequent foreign trips to countries like the US, Australia, UAE, South Africa and Russia had been noticed. It was also found that it was the companies that manufactured drugs for ailments related to heart, pediatrics, diabetes, blood pressure and hormones that sponsored the doctors. In a system gripped by corruption, physicians alone couldn’t necessarily keep away. A majority of them uphold their principals rendering social service and showing compassion towards the patients. They are the ones who bring name and fame to the field of medicine. But the rest of the creeps in the medical field land the people into anxiety. The MCI and the association of doctors haven’t been able to do anything much and the medical ethical code so far is the evidence. The medical conferences and other programs are still sponsored by the drug companies despite the ban as per the ethical guidelines in 2009. How far the renewed set of guidelines will prove effective is yet to be seen.