Private practice of government doctors in Kerala under lens again

Directorate of Medical Education recently suspended a nephrologist attached to Government Medical College, Kozhikode, on the charge, amid reports about Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau intensifying inspections to check the practice

January 11, 2024 02:06 pm | Updated January 12, 2024 12:05 pm IST - Kozhikode

The Government Medical College, Kozhikode. File photo

The Government Medical College, Kozhikode. File photo | Photo Credit: K. Ragesh

Private practice of government doctors in Kerala has come into focus again with the Directorate of Medical Education recently suspending a nephrologist attached to the Government Medical College, Kozhikode, on the charge, amid reports about the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) intensifying inspections to check the activity.

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The Kerala Government had issued an order in the last week of December 2023 clarifying in no uncertain terms that government doctors would not be allowed to engage in private practice. This came against the backdrop of complaints that doctors in government hospitals, including in medical college hospitals, were working in private clinics and often performing surgeries in private hospitals.

Reports on the suspension of M. Sreelatha of the Nephrology department at the Kozhikode medical college came thereafter.

As per government rules, government doctors, except those in medical colleges, are allowed to offer consultation at their residences. But, they are barred from treating patients who need hospital admission.

It has been alleged that some government doctors are seen working in private hospitals after their duty hours in the evenings and during night. There are also reports about some gynaecologists setting up scanning facilities at their residences and offering treatment.

Some other doctors have been accused of running medical labs in others’ names alongside their private clinics. It has been claimed that those who approach such private clinics are given priority in admission to government hospitals and medical college hospitals.

This is happening at a time when patients are forced to spend days to get their surgeries scheduled at these places. A section of patients also claim that some government doctors leave their hospitals early to reach the private hospitals, denying their services to the needy.

KGMOA flags ‘ambiguities’

The Kerala Government Medical Officers’ Association (KGMOA), however, has flagged certain “ambiguities” in the government order barring private practice, which, it says, “hang like the Sword of Damocles” over doctors who offer their practice genuinely, outside their duty hours and at places not linked to pharmacies, laboratories or other commercial establishments.

In a letter to the Principal Secretary, Health and Family Welfare, KGMOA functionaries said that the clause that the “patients proposed to be an inpatient should not be seen in private practice” was ambiguous.

One cannot predict with certainty that a patient being examined would not get admitted to hospitals. The clause that the doctors “should confine practice to the place where the medical officer usually resides and should produce residential certificate issued by Local Self-Government department on enquiry” does not consider the Keralites’ culture of changing their residence to flats, apartments and villas. The resurgence of various life-threatening diseases such as COVID-19 and Nipah make it difficult and impossible to ensure infection control while examining patients at their residences. It is difficult to find suitable places for residence and practice after periodic transfer too, the KGMOA functionaries said.

The association pointed out that these above-mentioned clauses, if insisted on, will make doctors “a soft target” to those with vested interests and demanded that these be modified.

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