Court directive to authorities, including Health Secretary

The Madras High Court on Thursday asked authorities to take a fresh look at the working hours of postgraduate medical students in colleges affiliated to Tamil Nadu Dr.MGR Medical University, Chennai.

They should bear in mind that attention failure among interns leading to medical errors may have disastrous consequences and ultimately affect public health, the court said.

The First Bench, comprising Chief Justice M.Y. Eqbal and Justice T.S. Sivagnanam, passed the order on a writ petition by E. Pradeep Prem Kumar seeking a direction to the authorities, including the State Health Secretary, Medical Council of India and the Director of Medical Education, to prescribe working hours, leave and holidays for PG medical students.

The petitioner said a candidate who joined the PG programme in any college affiliated to the university was compelled to work for 24 hours a day round the year. The university failed to regulate working hours.

In its counter, the university said an expert committee had said 90 per cent attendance during the course period, excluding any kind of leave, was mandatory for PG students to appear for university examinations. There should be no condonation for lack of attendance.

Additional Advocate-General, P. Wilson, submitted that the petitioner's contention that PG students/interns were being treated as bonded labour was ridiculous.

Disposing of the petition, the Bench said policy makers and academics should decide as to what would be the best procedure/regulation bearing in mind excellence in education, quality of student training and, more importantly, patient safety.

The court referred to a study conducted in the U.S.

Moreover, the time schedule in government and corporate hospitals compelling doctors doing PG/interns to work continuously 36 hours or even 24 hours at a stretch could not be appreciated.

The authorities could take note of the survey and constitute a team to study the conditions in Tamil Nadu.

If the study report revealed a disturbing trend in error of diagnosis or treatment, the authorities should revisit the matter and frame fresh regulations to regulate the pattern of PG programme in line with the programme schedule in other countries.