When the head of cardiology wing of Nizams Institute of Medical Sciences (NIMS), D. Seshagiri Rao was arrested by Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) while accepting a bribe of Rs. 1.6 lakh from a stent manufacturer, many had expected that the outrageous incident would be the last straw. That it would make the medical community to finally break its Omerta, the self-imposed code of silence, wake up, introspect and take corrective measures.
On the contrary, the arrest did little in terms of evoking a positive response from the State government, medical community and bodies like A.P. Medical Council and Indian Medical Association. Everybody has remained silent, even as the nexus between doctors, distributors, stent manufacturers and hospital managements remains unchecked.
While the incident drew a lot of public ire, it did little in terms of forcing authorities to regulate the use of stents and broadly medical devices on patients. The incident has also raised many questions. “When such brazen abuse of patient’s trust can take place at government-run NIMS, then what is the condition of patients at corporate hospitals where there is no transparency and regulation at all?” is the refrain among patients.
Experts said that there is an urgent need for strong regulatory body like a US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) to monitor and regulate stents industry on India. Lack of regulation has given a free reign to doctors and corporate hospitals, who prefer stents and other medical devices of their choice without giving much justification to patients. As a result, Indian stents, according to experts familiar with the industry, although of good quality, are seldom prescribed.
While many blame doctors for bringing the ‘noble’ profession to disrepute, what they do not realise is the fact that it’s not just the doctor who takes all the profits. The hospital management is equally culpable because the doctor has to pass on the share of the profits to the management, persons familiar with the system point out.
Senior doctors acknowledge that costly technology and equally expensive medical education has opened doors for corruption and commercialisation. “Doctors are bound by the Hippocrates oath. They should have ethics and be honest to patients. Unfortunately, there is no place for such ideals in this age. Rampant commercialisation has seeped into the system,” laments former Superintendent, OGH, Dr. A. Gopal Kishan.
Many have also called for strict punishments on erring doctors like cancellation of licence to practice medicine as a deterrent. “How can you expect action from politicians and bureaucrats? Top cardiologists are personal doctors to them. Corruption is being perpetuated from the highest level and the doctor is a small cog in the wheel of corruption. Practising licence of such doctors should be cancelled,” says former member of IMA, Dr. C.L. Venkat Rao.
Hyderabad also has a problem of too many hospitals with dedicated cardiology units when compared to Mumbai and Delhi. “Hyderabad has 40 hospitals with dedicated heart facilities while Delhi has 25 and Mumbai has close to 35 such hospitals. Naturally, there is pressure due to huge investments,” doctors said.