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Times of India
14 March 2010
New Delhi, India

The president of the Medical Council of India (MCI), Dr Ketan Desai, has submitted a letter to the Health Ministry seeking legislation to regulate the pharmaceutical industry’s practice of giving freebies to doctors to influence their prescribing habits.

“The MCI has no jurisdiction over the pharma industry. The MCI’s ban on doctors accepting gifts, travel facilities and hospitality of any kind from any pharmaceutical or allied health care industry will only apply to doctors. But the pharmaceutical industry is also a party to such a transaction and hence the government of India needs to bring in a legislation to restrain pharmaceutical companies from these type of activities,” said Dr Desai.

Speaking at a conference on ‘Medical Ethics Conundrum-The Road Ahead’ organized by Health Essayists and Authors League (HEAL) on Tuesday, Dr Desai said that the industry and doctors would find ways to circumvent the rules but that should not stop the government from making laws.

“A friend who owns a pharmaceutical company in Ahmedabad told me that the MCI had made things difficult by banning gifts. He told me that so far they were paying doctors by cheque, but would now have to do that in cash,” said Dr Desai.

Though the MCI had suggested a guillotine or sorts by banning all gifts to doctors, Dr Desai admitted that it would be difficult to actually ban all gifts as a lot of questions were being raised about whether educational books, pens and prescription pads would count as gifts.

“We are struggling to define what a “gift” is and whether there should be some ceiling on the worth of a gift. I know that would become a loophole, but we will have to come up with an acceptable definition making things more clear. If we say the ceiling is Rs 1,000, what if the pharma companies give several gifts worth Rs 900? These are questions we have to consider. But a fear of laws being broken cannot stop us from making laws,” said Dr Desai.

Despite several meetings of the MCI’s ethics committee since the law on banning gifts was passed in December, they haven’t been able to decide on the quantum of punishment for violation of the various rules and regulations related to the ban. “We will hopefully decide on this within the next two months. Anyway, each state is free to decide the quantum of punishment applicable just as it is doing for medical negligence cases,” said Dr Desai.

Dr Ved Prakash Mishra of the MCI ethics committee explained that the MCI would not do any policing and would not be taking any suo moto action. “The regulations are enforceable only if a person brings a complaint to the state council where a doctor is registered. If the parties are not satisfied, they could approach the MCI. The onus of proving innocence would be on the accused and not on the person filing the complaint,” said Dr Mishra.

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