New Delhi: The medical fraternity has indeed been on its edge since December 20th,2018 when Consumer Protection Bill 2018 was passed by Lok Sabha. While the Consumer Protection Act, has indeed been a horror-instilling phenomenon in the litigation fearing medicos, the new amendments indeed have brought a new sense of panic with its various features including enhancement of penalty powers with the lower fora and lack of proper protocols that should be kept in place when dealing with the specialised medico-legal cases.
The original Consumer Protect Act,1886 passed by the Parliament did not envisage to include the medical profession. The medical profession was only brought under the purview of Consumer Protection Act in 1994 following a Supreme Court verdict in V.P.Shanta Vs Indian Medical Association case.
Ever since doctors and hospitals came under the purview, there have been a tremendous rise in medical negligence cases. Over the years, the amount of compensation has also seen a steep upward trend, with forums asking doctors and hospitals to pay compensation commonly in the denominations of lakhs and crores.
The New Bill while covering the healthcare sector, does not clarify on how these cases which are highly specialised in nature will be dealt with. The definition of “service” includes healthcare which means every type of health care is under the purview of Bill. 2018.
Here are 5 major reasons why doctors are now opposing the new Consumer Protection Bill.
Lack of requirement of Expert Opinion
With the stakes of medical negligence cases being high now, it is important that a case of medical negligence is clearly established before court awards compensation to the “victim”. Doctors have indeed demanded a set protocol whereby an expert panel analyses the case to establish negligence, and compensation is just not given on emotional or sympathetic grounds to the victim. While such a requirement is indeed coming in place in cases of criminal negligence, currently, in case of civil cases before the consumer forum-it is upon the whims of the commission members, whether an expert opinion is required or not.
With the new bill, doctors are demanding that such a protocol be put in place so that only where there is actual negligence should the case of compensation arise and doctors are not harassed in the name of the CPA.
Higher Compensation Powers with Lower Fora
The new Bill tremendously increases the amount of compensation that can be awarded by all the foras. While the District consumer redressal forum’s jurisdiction has been increased from Rs 10 Lakhs to Rs 1 crore, while that of the State Consumer Commission has increased from Rs 1 crore to Rs 10 crores. The National Commission will focus on cases of more than Rs 10 crore.
Doctors who already fear frivolous cases have pointed out that such high level of jurisdiction denominations will now see demands of complainants also sky-rocket to the same levels
Non- Judicial Members may comprise the Commission
While existing Consumer Protection Act, 1986, states that the Commissions at various levels will be headed by a person qualified to be a judge, the new bill does away with this requirement and rests the entire powers of appointment with the central government. While many have pointed out that this will violate the principle of separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary, it also becomes a source of primal fear amongst the medical profession that someone with no knowledge of law or that of medicine may be deciding their fates in medico-legal cases.
Provision for Consumer mediation cells
The new Bill provides for mediation cells attached to the District, State and National Commissions. The Commissions may refer a matter for mediation if the parties consent to settle their dispute in this manner. Doctors have pointed out that given the high level of compensation involved these Consumer mediation cells will soon become a tool to harass and blackmail doctors
No penalties for frivolous and vexatious complaints
Section 26 of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 calls for the Dismissal of frivolous or vexatious complaints, even imposing a penalty of maximum Rs 10,000 on the complainant in this case. Surprisingly, instead of enhancing the penalty in case of frivolous complaints, the new bill completely gave a miss to this clause altogether. The likely implication of this will be unnecessary and vexatious complaints that will be used to blackmail doctors for crores of rupees, without any fear of counteraction.
The author is the founder of Medical Dialogues