Hitesh Bhatt trained to be a Gynaecologist in Gujarat and had planned to set up a hospital along with his wife, also a Gynaec., in Baroda.
But today he is in Mumbai and his life has taken on an altogether different path and he a different role.
He is now a leading Medicolegal Consultant. He has also studied law through Symbiosis distant learning program.
Last year he was in the news all over Mumbai papers for having taken on the might of the BMC in the Mumbai High Court and winning hands down!
As he recounts his journey he narrates how as a gynecologist dealing with pregnancies and all the check ups and tests it entails he realized how draconian and one sided the PCPNDT act was. For lay persons that is Pre Conceptional pre natal diagnostic technique Act. In simple English this act is supposed to ensure that Doctors and hospitals do not disclose the sex of the unborn baby through sonography. This is for protection of the girl child whose numbers are dwindling in India due to all the abortions that happen when parents find out they are expecting a child of the ‘wrong sex’.
“This law has been absurdly and very stringently used and abused over 16 years now. Have the abortions stopped? Has the ratio of male vs female babies improved?” Asks Hitesh.
The reply of course, is no, it hasn’t.
“Then what about all the Doctors who have been fined, penalized and harassed under the law? Matters have gone to such a ridiculous level that a Doctor in Amravati was penalized and his Sonography machine sealed because his clinic carried a photo of Radha Krisna on its walls! ” ( If you did not understand what’s the relevance the accusation was that the Doctor or his staff would point to Radha if they had to convey it was a girl and to Krisna if it was a boy!)
Dr. Hitesh and his wife were also targeted by BMC last year. On the pretext that their application for renewal had been received one day late, the sonogram machine in his hospital was sealed and he was asked to pay a hefty fine to have it opened again. He went to court against the arbitrary action, fought his own case, and won.
“The judges were very helpful when they learnt I was going to plead my own case” says Hitesh. “They used to hear my case at such times which did not disturb our medical practise and our patients were not inconvenienced. Further, if a hearing was postponed or cancelled, we were called by the court officers and informed accordingly. This makes me firmly believe that every citizen, no matter what his profession should know basic laws and fight for his own cause”.
Getting back to the subject of the harsh act Bhatt asks -so many Doctors held to ransom and not one patient or patients’ relatives punished or fined for demanding to know what the sex of the baby is?
“No Doctor will on his own volunteer to tell you the sex of the fetus; he/ she is always approached by the patient or his family member” emphasizes Dr. Bhatt. “Till the law does not take into cognizance these real culprits how will it help to keep pointing fingers at the medical fraternity?”
Not many know that a Doctor can be jailed for three years with R.I. for breaking this rule.
The intention behind the Act was good, but it was drawn up by medically ignorant people and has so many loop holes that a strict or a corrupt official can accuse a doctor of ‘breaking the law’ even if he fills in the form wrongly, for instance, he puts a – ( dash) where he should write not applicable.
“Who are our law makers after all? Our parliament. And there is no Doctors’ lobby or a voice for the medical fraternity there. Bills pertaining to our profession are passed without any debate or discussion. There is no one watching out for the interests of our profession” laments Hitesh.
In Haryana recently, in a tragic incident a Doctor running a maternity hospital lost his life. According to new provisions in the Act a patient has to submit a photo id. Generally rural women have no such ids. When the Doc pointed out that he could not take her for sonography till such id was not provided, the relatives accompanying the woman got very irked and shot the Doc dead.
“This is not the way to save the girl child” points out Dr. Bhatt. “You educate people, you give incentives for girls’ education and vocational training and if people still want to abort female fetus’ you punish them and set an example. But the government does not have the will. Easier to target some thousand people ( Doctors running maternity homes) than punish crores of people, the patients who insist on sonography for sex detection.
“Despite all the strict rules, they do manage to find out the sex of the fetus, so abortions are still happening. Every human being has a price, and a Doctor is human too”.
It is not just this Act. Ever since Doctors were brought under the purview of Customer protection Act.
The Consumer Protection Act was passed in 24th December, 1986 for the better protection of the interest of consumers and to make provisions for the establishment of consumer councils and other authorities for the settlement of consumer’s dispute.
Till 1995, even courts were not clear whether doctors are covered under consumer protection act
or not. In a landmark case in 1995, the Supreme Court decision in Indian Medical Association vs
VP Shantha medical profession has been brought under the Section 2(1) (o) of Consumer Protection
Act, 1986 and also, it has included the following categories of doctors/hospitals under this Section:
1.All medical/dental practitioners doing independent medical/dental practice unless
rendering only free service.
2.Private hospitals charging all patients.
3.All hospitals having free as well as paying patients and all the paying and free category patients receiving treatment in such hospitals.
4.Medical/dental practitioners and hospitals paid by an insurance firm for the treatment
of a client or an employment for that of an
This has in a way made medical practice risky for both patients and doctors. If a doctor has to play by all rules to safeguard himself legally it can affect the patient’s care since many decisions could be taken by a Doc by dint of his long experience and his intuition.
This has also led to our physicians feeling so harassed and misunderstood that when a survey was carried out by ‘SurveyMonkey.com’ (a very large organization helping carry our surveys world wide) asking Indian Doctors whether they wanted their children to follow them into the medical profession, a majority of them said NO.
This is where Dr. Hitesh Bhatt’s consultancy in medico legal practise comes in. He counsels many harried and worried Doctors to practice medicine fearlessly. He is hired as consultant by many hospitals and doctors where by he audits the hospital’s routine and suggest changes to keep them legally safe.
He says it is not very complicated. A Doctor must be free and open in his communications with the patient and follow some norms. Everyone will benefit from the openness. And correct documentation is very necessary too. With the advent of computers this should not be difficult. Know the Nursing Home Act and follow correct procedures in keeping your equipment and premises clean. If you do all this, no one can touch you – even the Hitler like Government Doctor who being from the fraternity is still a dreaded person.
“Medicine IS a noble profession, no one can take that fact away. Doctors are the only professionals who can diagnose an ailing person and if possible cure him. They train long and hard ( for 10 – 15 years) so that they are able and capable of fighting disease and death. It’s time respect and glory is returned to this noble calling” Dr. Bhatt concludes, with earnest emotion in his voice.