A British Medical Journal (BMJ) article on corruption in Indian healthcare is creating a flutter in the medical community and policy experts. Written by Australian medical practitioner Dr David Berger who volunteered as a physician at a charitable hospital in the Himalayas, the article titled “Corruption ruins the doctor-patient relationship in India” highlights how “kickbacks and bribes oil every part of the healthcare machinery” and says there is a “lack of the will to reform these practices”.
The article has seen response in the form of an editorial by a noted doctor in India, and a campaign against corruption in healthcare by BMJ that will start with a focus on India.
Dr Samiran Nundy, noted gastroenterologist and surgeon at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital who is the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Current Medicine Research and Practice, published by the same hospital, has written an editorial in response to Dr Berger’s piece that appeared Tuesday.
Dr Nundy highlights the difficulties in getting admission in an MBBS course and the problems in “five star corporate hospitals” where the “temptation” to do “unnecessary investigations like CT scans and MRIs” and perform “unnecessary procedures like caesarian sections, hysterectomies” is “hard to resist”, and in pubic hospitals where “professors and associate professors fight over who should treat VIPs and wait on them…leaving the care of the poor to their junior colleagues”.
Another edit in the BMJ, announcing its soon-to-be-launched campaign on an “international fight against kickbacks” and co-authored by the journal’s India editor Dr Anita Jain and international editor Dr Kamran Abbasi, besides Dr Nundy, says Dr Berger’s experience highlights “how corrupt practices can steadily erode the trust and respect with which doctors were previously regarded”.
Dr Jain told The Indian Express the international campaign would focus on India. “If we can tackle the problem here we will be able to address it in other countries…”
Dr Nundy’s edit has invited widespread reactions from policy experts.
Dr Keshav Desiraju, secretary, Consumer Affairs, and former health secretary whose ouster from the health ministry had raised questions after reports that he was transferred due to his resistance on the return of tainted MCI chief Dr Ketan Desai, said: “The important point in Dr Berger’s article is not simply that there are corrupting agencies within the ecosystem that the doctor occupies but that the doctor is easily liable to be corrupted.”
Former health secretary Dr Sujatha Rao agreed “with the Australian doctor’s assessment of the all-pervasive corruption eating into the doctor patient-relationship in India”.