Doctor-pharma nexus to prescribe needless, costly drugs exposed

A day after an expose by NDTV showing doctors in Delhi agreeing to prescribe drugs in exchange for kickbacks, health minister Harsh Vardhan told Parliament today that "unethical practices" will be urgently tackled and that "adequate action" would follow.

What happens next will be determined by the Medical Council of India (MCI), the watchdog for doctors and medical practices. Its representatives say the Ethics Committee of the council, which meets on Thursday, will dissect the evidence in the NDTV investigation.

With a hidden camera, the NDTV team posed as representatives of a pharmaceutical company and asked three doctors in Delhi what it would take to push their company's drugs.

One of the three docs wanted cash; another asked for a digital camera worth Rs1.5 lakh; and the third consulted his son on the phone and then asked for "an iPad mini, with retina display and 32GB."

The malpractice of doctors pushing expensive and often unnecessary drugs in collusion with pharmaceutical representatives is rampant, claimed Dr Samiran Nundy, a leading Delhi surgeon with Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.

"The MCI [Medical Council of India] has these guidelines but I don't know why they aren't enforced. All pharmaceutical companies give gifts to doctors," he said, pointing out that to check the problem, the Sunshine Act in the US makes it mandatory for pharmaceutical companies and makers of medical devices to declare, on a public website, any payments made to doctors.

Dr Jai Vir Singh, member of the Medical CounciI of India, said, "It is the fault of the company also. Giving a bribe and taking the bribe are both wrong. Certainly we're going to take action against these doctors."