The court said the disciplinary authority like the medical council has to act with due seriousness and read between the lines before registering a complaint against the doctor.
The Karnataka High Court has said the Karnataka Medical Council (KMC) or complainants including the hospitals cannot use provisions of law pertaining to the doctors' professional misconduct as a machinery for recovery of money from them in the guise of disciplinary proceedings.
A single judge bench of Justice Krishna S Dixit said,
"The provisions of law, Chapter VII of the Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations, 2002 read with Section 15 of the Karnataka Medical Registration Act, 1961, cannot be used either by the complainant or by the disciplinary authority i.e., KMC as the machinery for recovery of the money, in the guise of disciplinary proceedings."
The bench made the observation while allowing a petition filed by one Dr Nagesh. The court quashed a complaint filed by Nova Medical Centre Pvt Ltd that accused the doctor of professional misconduct.
The bench stressed that in matters of professional misconduct of a doctor, the disciplinary authority like KMC has to act with due seriousness and read between the lines before registering a complaint. It cannot act as a post office which transmits the mail to the addressee, said the court.
"Setting in motion the disciplinary proceedings against the professionals and more particularly, the doctors, is a more serious matter than setting the criminal law in motion. Onset of such proceedings has deleterious effect on public interest since that would drive the delinquent doctor to 'defensive medicine' to the prejudice of the patient. Therefore, such proceedings cannot be initiated just for an askance. A preliminary enquiry is eminently warranted in cases like this."
Dr Nagesh in the year 2011 was a visiting doctor with Nova Medical Centre. A patient namely, Jayaprakash, the husband of Soumay P, underwent a serious surgical treatment at the hospital.
Due to some medical complications having arisen, the patient was shifted to Apollo Hospital on 29.03.2011, wherein better medical facilities were available.
It is alleged that some ruckus was created by Soumay & her father Puttegowda along with others, leading Dr Nagesh to lodge an FIR on 02.10.2011 with the Kengeri Police, Bengaluru. The patient's wife also filed a police complaint against the doctor for offences punishable u/s 506 (criminal intimidation) & u/s 338 (causing grievous hurt) - the police subsequently filed a cancellation report in the case against Dr Nagesh.
Aa per the petition, on 19.10.2011, Soumay accompanied by media persons visited the premises of Nova Medical Centre and coerced the hospital for payment of Rs.40 Lakh towards reimbursement of Apollo Hospital Medical bills. Nova Medical Centre claiming to have paid the same later sent a legal notice asking Dr Nagesh and another doctor to reimburse the same. Dr Nagesh in response denied the claim.
Aggravating the matter further, Nova Medical Centre filed a complaint before KMC, alleging professional misconduct against Dr Nagesh. The authority issued a notice to the medico, leading to filing of a case before the High Court
Firstly the court noted that the complaint is not from the side of the aggrieved patient nor on his behalf. There is no explanation whatsoever for the patient's side for not making the complaint, even though they could have lodged an FIR with the Police, it said.
It further added, "At least some explanation ought to have been offered by the 2nd Respondent-Hospital in its complaint itself. It is not that such a complaint is not maintainable in law, the definition of misconduct having been widened by the successive amendment to the Rules. Thus, the issue is not as to the maintainability of the complaint but its prima facie consideration-worthiness."
Taking into consideration that the police have filed a B report on the complaint lodged by the patient's wife against Dr Nagesh, the bench said the filing of the cancellation report was preceded by a considered expert opinion obtained from Victoria Hospital, Bengaluru regarding the alleged professional deficiency in medical service.
The report gave a clean chit to Dr Nagesh saying there was no medical negligence on his part.
Taking note of the contents of the legal notice issued to Dr Nagesh by the hospital, the bench said:
"The contents of this Notice when construed in the light of other attending material, generates a reasonable impression that the 2nd Respondent – Hospital desired to recover from the Petitioner & 3rd Respondent-Surgeon, a sum of Rs.40 Lakh, contending that on the request of the patient's wife, her father & other family members, this amount was paid towards Apollo Hospital bills of the patient."
The court also said the incident in question happened more than a decade ago and that it is not the case of the Medical Council that post incident any objections have been received about the professional conduct of the petitioner.
"The enquiry has been interdicted by a Coordinate Bench of this Court by the interim order, all through. Years have rolled and much water has flowed under the bridges; cause of justice would be served more by the quashing of impugned proceedings than by their continuance in the given circumstances," added the court.
While allowing the petition, the court granted liberty to Nova Medical Centre and the patient's wife to pursue civil remedies in accordance with law, if they so choose.
Case Title: DR. NAGESH v. KARNATAKA MEDICAL COUNCIL
Case No: WRIT PETITION NO.60243 OF 2016
Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (kar) 392
Date of Order: 23RD DAY OF SEPTEMBER, 2022
Appearance: UDAYA HOLLA, SENIOR COUNSEL A/W KUMARA, ADVOCATE for petitioner
SHIVAYOGESH SHIVA YOGIMATH, ADVOCATE FOR RATNA N SHIVAYOGIMATH, FOR R1.