New Delhi: As the Narendra Modi government introduced Consumer Protection Bill, 2019, in the Lok Sabha Monday, which removes “healthcare” from the list of services, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) has said it’s a mere gesture. Even as the Bill grants immunity to doctors from facing cases filed by disgruntled patients and their family members in consumer courts, the IMA said it does not provide blanket protection to doctors.
The Consumer Protection Bill, 2018, had included “healthcare” in the list of services. The Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha in December last year during the first Narendra Modi government, but lapsed in the Rajya Sabha due to continuous demands from various medical organisations to remove “healthcare”, among other issues.
The new Bill states that “services” will include banking, financing, insurance, transport, processing, supply of electrical or other energy, telecom, boarding or lodging or both, housing construction, and entertainment.
However, the Bill also says “but not limited to” before listing out the categories of services, which leaves it open to judicial interpretation. In the past, consumer courts have penalised government doctors who didn’t come under the purview of the relevant Act.
‘Aggrieved persons can approach SC’
The removal of “healthcare” from the list of services means consumers can no longer approach a consumer court to address issues of medical negligence or file complaints against doctors there.
However, patients or their family members can approach higher courts for medical negligence.
“Aggrieved persons can still approach the high courts or Supreme Court, seeking penalty or compensation for violation of Right to Life or any other fundamental right,” a legal expert, who did not wish to be named, told ThePrint.
The removal of “healthcare” from the Bill, however, stands contrary to what the apex court had ruled in 2010. The Supreme Court had laid down principles to be followed while deciding whether medical professionals are guilty of negligence. The court held in the same verdict that “if there is a deviation from the same, the patient has the right to complain”.
It’s a mere gesture, says IMA
The Indian Medical Association (IMA) had held several meetings with the government to push for their demand to scrap “healthcare” from the list of services, among others.
Speaking to ThePrint, Dr R.V. Asokan, secretary-general of IMA, called it a “mere gesture” and said it does not provide blanket protection to doctors.
“There are two lists with the Bill. One is an inclusion list and the other one is the exclusion list. The government has just taken ‘healthcare’ out of inclusion list, but it has not been included in the exclusion list. Thus, this is a mere gesture and we will keep trying for this to be included in the exclusion list,” he said.
Asokan also said patients could not be termed as consumers, and that sudden deaths that occur are nothing but medical accidents, which should not be allowed to hamper a doctor’s long practice.