News

Medical Council of India orders doctors’ suspension for drug industry junket

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h1106 (Published 26 February 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h1106
  1. Ganapati Mudur
  1. 1New Delhi

The Medical Council of India has ordered a six month suspension of the licences of 15 doctors who travelled to the United Kingdom in 2012 on what the council says was a trip paid for by a drug company.

The order, issued last week, came amid longstanding concerns that some doctors in India may be accepting travel support and hospitality from drug companies, thus breaching ethical guidelines issued by the council nearly six years ago. Most of the 15 doctors named in the council’s order are neurologists or neurosurgeons, and all practise in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

A non-governmental organisation called the Health Rights Forum had complained to the council that the doctors had travelled to Glasgow, Edinburgh, and London on a seven day trip in May 2012 funded by Intas Pharmaceuticals, an Indian drug company. The named doctors and Intas have denied the allegations and asserted that the doctors paid for their own travel, backing the claims with bank account statements and travel agents’ receipts.

Two of the doctors told The BMJ that they will challenge the council’s order in court. Intas has said that it has always conformed to the council’s codes of ethics, that it did not sponsor any foreign trip for the doctors, and that the allegations are “baseless and unfounded.” However, the council said that its investigations suggest that the company sponsored the doctors’ trip and that discrepancies in the travel agency receipts showed that the doctors “went into arranging ways to save themselves.”

The council’s order, issued on 18 February, has been sent to the Madhya Pradesh medical council, which is expected to suspend the doctors from its register for six months. Satya Prakash Yadav, a urologist and member of the council’s ethics subcommittee that scrutinised the complaint and the documents, told The BMJ, “The council is serious about cleaning things up—at some point hard decisions have to be taken. This is a message to the medical community.”

Doctors who have been tracking ethics in medical practice view the council’s move as significant. Amar Jesani, a physician and one of the founder members of India’s Forum for Medical Ethics Society, said, “After passing the regulations in 2009, the MCI [Medical Council of India] should have closely monitored the situation and demanded explanations in all cases where pharma sponsorship was taken.”

The Health Rights Forum is hoping that the council’s decision will serve as a deterrent to other doctors and the drug industry. Chinmay Mishra, convenor of the Health Rights Forum, told The BMJ, “Many people, including some doctors, have been concerned about unethical drug promotional practices by drug companies. A six month suspension is not such a hard punishment. In the long term this decision will benefit society.”

A survey in Mumbai, based on interviews with doctors and representatives of drug companies in 2007, documented what the doctors who conducted the survey said was the “institutionalisation of unethical drug promotional practices at the cost of the consumer—by drug companies, chemists, and doctors.”1

A neurosurgeon among the doctors named in the council’s order said that he plans to file a petition in court challenging the order. “The language of the order shows that it is based on conjecture,” he told The BMJ. “I had submitted bank statements which showed that I had paid for the trip.”

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h1106

References

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