February 21, 2009

Supreme Court breather to docs on negligence

The Supreme Court on Tuesday stepped in to check harassment of doctors in medical negligence cases. A division bench of Justice

Markandey Katju and Justice G S Singhvi held that consumer and criminal courts would have to seek the opinion of a doctor or a panel of doctors before issuing a notice to a medical practitioner or a hospital in a case alleging negligence.

The fresh guidelines stipulate that whenever a consumer forum or a criminal court receives a complaint against a doctor, it should refer the matter to a panel of experts. Only after the committee reports that there is a prima facie case of medical negligence should a notice be issued to the doctor or hospital concerned.

"This is necessary to avoid harassment to doctors who may not be ultimately found to be negligent," observed the bench, adding: "The courts and consumer fora are not experts in medical science and must not hold their own views over that of specialists. It is true that the medical profession has to an extent become commercialised and there are many doctors who depart from their Hippocratic oath for their selfish ends of making money. However, the entire medical fraternity cannot be blamed or branded as lacking in integrity or competence just because of some bad apples."

The court also warned police officials not to arrest or harass doctors unless the facts were in line with earlier apex court guidelines. "Otherwise the policemen will themselves have to face legal action," said the judges.

The matter before the SC pertained to a 17-year-old case filed by Union commerce ministry officer Mohammad Ishfaq against a Mumbai-based doctor practising at Nanavati Hospital.

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