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Doctors And Consumer Protection Act

Doctors and Consumer Protection Act

Doctors being the quintessential god in our society for decades have saved numerous lives and ensured a healthy lifestyle. In recent years value of doctors has been increasing rapidly and due to the increase in the population of doctors, there has also been an increasing number of misdiagnosis cases and unfair treatments to patients. Therefore, it is very important for every individual as well as every doctor to be aware of laws, acts, rules that have been created to guide and protect the general public.

And thus, in India, The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) was enacted in 1986 which is an important milestone in the history of legislation in India giving rise to new consumer jurisprudence. This Act introduced a three-tier quasi-judicial consumer dispute disposal mechanism i.e., district level, state level, and national level for time-bound consumer justice.

Before commencement of this act all the disputes related to negligence of doctors or hospitals were filed under the relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code to claim the damages or to get the negligent punished. These claims were time-consuming and expensive. After the introduction of CPA drastic changes has occurred regarding referring claims to the district, state, national forum. The effective implementation of the CPA commenced in 1990.

A large number of consumers and organizations started approaching CPA forums for the redress of grievances. The act provides for the establishment of a consumer council to educate the public and the creation of authorities for the settlement of consumer disputes. Consumer awareness is emerging in the country, concepts are changing, laws are getting updated and consumers are getting more and more demanding. So, it is essential on the part of medical professionals to have updated and adequate knowledge and awareness about CPA to give better services and prevent consumer disputes.

Scope of CPA

  1. Under the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, redressal agencies have been established at three different levels. A District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum is set up at each district headquarter. It has the pecuniary jurisdiction to grant compensation up to. 20 lakhs. A State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission has been established at the capital of each state. The state Commission has pecuniary jurisdiction to grant compensation from Rs. 20 Lakhs to Rs. 1 Crore.

    A National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission has been established in New Delhi. The National Commission has pecuniary jurisdiction to grant compensation of value more than 1 crore. The aggrieved party can appeal against the order of the District Forum to the State Commission within 30 days of receipt of the order. Similarly, any party can appeal against the order of the State Commission to the National Commission within 30 days of receipt of the order. The appeal against the order of the National Commission will lie before the Supreme Court of India.
  2. Consumer:
    Consumer means any person who buys any goods for a consideration which has been paid or promised partly paid and partly promised or any system of deferred paid (hire, purchase, or installment sell) and included any other user of such good when such use is made with the approval of buyer but does not include a person who obtains such goods for resell or for any commercial purpose. or hires or avails of any services for a consideration which has been paid or promised, or partly paid and partly promised or under any system of deferred payment and includes any beneficiary of such service when such service is availed of which the approval of a first-mentioned person.
  3. Goods:
    As defined in the sale of goods act 1930, goods mean every kind of movable property other than actionable claims and money.
  4. Service:
    Service means service of any description which is made available to potential users but does not include the rendering of any service free of charge or under a contract of personal service.
  5. Consumer dispute:
    This means a dispute where a person against whom a complaint has been made, denies or disputes the allegation contained in the complaint.
  6. Unfair trade practice:
    1. defect:
      Any fault, imperfection, or shortcoming in the quality, quantity, potency, purity, or standard which is required to be maintained by or under any law for the time being in force or under any contract expressed or implied or is claimed by the trade-in any manner whatsoever in relation in any goods.
    2. Deficiency:
      Any fault imperfection shortcoming or inadequacy in quality nature and manner of performance which is required to be maintained by or under any law for the being in force or has been undertaken to be performed by a person pursuance of a contract or otherwise.
    3. Deliberate withholding of relevant information by such person to the consumer e.g., Doctor not giving necessary information.

Consumer Protection (Mediation) Rules 2020 dictates under Rule (4) that matters relating to proceedings in respect of medical negligence resulting in grievous injury or death should not be referred to the mediation cell. This is because medical negligence comes under the ambit of the Consumer Protection Act.

In 1995 Supreme court decision in I.M.A. vs V.P Shantha bought medical profession within the ambit of CPA 1986. The apex court said the relationship between patient and medical professional is contractual. [ A Consumer Who Has Been Offered A Service Has The Right To Approach Court If There Is Sufficient Evidence That There Was Breach Of Duty, Medical Negligence, A Consumer Has The Right To Move To The Consumer Dispute Redressal Forum]

Still CPA is not beneficial for modern-day doctors. As there is no mention of health/medical/clinical services in the legislation under the definition of services as per CPA. In the initial draft of the CPA bill, Healthcare was mentioned but doctors and healthcare of the country requested the government to remove healthcare from the definition of service. Later on, the word healthcare was removed from the definition of services. It was the government that accepted this error and moved to remove it.

In Conclusion
The government failed to observe the vision and importance of doctors and categorized them under Consumer Protection Act instead of providing them with a separate judicial system backed by medical counsel only. Covid has changed everything in our society from health to death. Actions have consequences.

Doctors, healthcare, and frontline workers - considered a reflection of gods- and are constantly indulged in life-saving activities are now being harassed, killed, molested, and being held in the same court as others which amounts to a violation of their occupation. There is still some confusion in the air whether to held doctors in a private court or the same as others.

The apex court of our country should also interpret the laws and take Suo-moto actions on such matters and our government also must amend, pass laws in the favor of healthcare workers and with the recommendation of medical counsel. Lastly, an ordinary person having mere knowledge of medical science cannot pass judgments based on facts. Medical experts, senior doctors are the ones equipped with proper knowledge of body science are worthy to be the jury of such cases.

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