The Bombay High Court on Friday suggested that the Maharashtra government consider creating a special cell of well-trained police officers to deal with registering FIRs against doctors over complaints of medical negligence. A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G S Kulkarni also said the state must make police officers aware of the existing law and Supreme Court rulings about registering offences against medical practitioners, following complaints by friends or relatives of patients. The court was hearing a bunch of public interest litigations (PILs) on management of resources related to COVID-19, and another on rising instances of attacks on doctors by patients' relatives.
On Thursday, advocate Rajesh Inamdar, counsel for one of the petitioners, had informed the court that several doctors working in COVID-19 wards had been receiving notices from the police following complaints by relatives of patients who were unhappy with the treatment, or in cases where patients had succumbed to the disease. Inamdar was referring to the protocol issued last year by the Maharashtra government that keeps getting revised from time to time and deals with the drugs and line of treatment that must be provided to COVID-19 patients.
A doctor representing the Indian Medical Association (IMA), who was also present for the hearing via video-conferencing, then told the court that doctors were being attacked unnecessarily. He said that while doctors stuck to the protocol as much as possible, the administration of a particular drug or a certain dose, depended on the condition of the patient, his or her comorbidities, response to the line of treatment etc.
The doctor further said sometimes medical practitioners had to prescribe alternate drugs due to unavailability of those mentioned in the protocol. The High Court had said at the time that doctors, already overworked due to the pandemic, must not have to face such harassment, or spend anytime giving explanations to the police. It had directed the Maharashtra Advocate General (AG) for assistance on the existing laws on the issue.
On Friday, the AG submitted a slew of previous SC judgements to show that the police must not unthinkingly register an offence unless there existed an apparent or reasonable case of negligence. The court then said the police must be trained to ascertain which cases required an immediate registration of offence.
"You (state) must make your police officers aware of the law and the SC rulings on the issue. There can be a cell consisting of police officers who are well adapted to handle these situations. It will not go to any ABC police officer. All complaints on medical negligence will go to well-trained officers, the bench said. The position today is that the police must be a little cautious. It should not act immediately unless he or she takes a medical opinion that there is a genuine case of medical negligence. Otherwise, a doctor will not be mentally free while working, the court noted. The court directed the state to take a decision and place it before the High Court by June 16, following which it will pass an order.