Foreign trips by a section of teaching doctors at various medical colleges and research institutes in the state have come under scanner over questions raised about the source of funding.
A number of doctors of neuro-medicine, neurosurgery, cardiology, cardiothoracic, chest medicine and general surgery are making regular foreign visits — to Singapore, Japan and Germany — to attend seminars. Now, while there is nothing wrong in attending seminars, what has raised eyebrows are allegations that the trips are being sponsored by pharmaceutical and medical equipment-manufacturing companies.
"Personal visits sponsored by private companies are not ethical for government doctors. The government should be more vigilant in this regard," said Dr Goutam Mukherjee, secretary of the CPI(M)-backed Association of Health Service Doctors (AHSD). "Though we have not yet received any complaint about a doctor touring foreign countries sponsored by drug companies, we have discussed the issue."
A high-ranking official of the medical education services (MES) said that a senior teaching doctor of chest medicine from a leading medical college hospital in the city had visited Germany six months ago to attend a seminar. "A multinational company had reportedly sponsored the trip by giving him about $1,000," he said. In another case, a paediatric surgeon from SSKM went on a 7-day trip to Singapore. "His trip was sponsored by a medical equipment-manufacturing company," the official alleged.
A health department source said that the practice is common among a section of doctors from NRS, SSKM and Bangur Institute of Neurology. "For example, a cardiologist with NRS Hospital makes foreign trips at least four times a year, all reportedly sponsored by medical equipment-manufacturing companies," said the source.
A senior health department official at Swasthya Bhavan said: "The gross annual income of a teaching doctor of the rank of professor is about Rs 5 lakh. He might have extra income from private practice. But this is not enough for him to visit Europe and the US two to three times every year to attend a seminar. There must be some sponsorship behind the frequent foreign trips."
A senior department official said that the government is thinking about framing guidelines in this regard soon. To bring about some sort of transparency, the health department, around two years ago, had directed doctors to produce their savings bank accounts numbers, passports and purpose of visit if they decided to go abroad. They were also required to take clearance from the health and home departments. But the department does not have the machinery to verify savings accounts of individual doctors. Again, government doctors were also reluctant about showing bank accounts.
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