In the increasingly consumerist world that we live in, not a day goes by when we don’t shop — whether it is for small things like vegetables, fruits or chocolate, or bigger stuff like cars, refrigerators and phones. And it is quite maddening when the vegetable seller palms off some spoilt cauliflowers on us, or gives us stale fish that even the cat turns up its nose at. Your new refrigerator might stop working in the middle of a very hot day or the stitches of the expensive dress you bought at the mall may come apart in a day’s wear!
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But nothing can be more distressing and unforgivable than being conned as a customer in the field of health care. Yet cases such as this are not as rare as you would think.
Three recent judgements from the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum in Mysore reveal how deplorable the healthcare system can be! The only silver lining: you can seek legal redress.
Consider the case of R Raghuveer, a retired professor, who was in charge of his young niece Vanitha, a cancer patient. Vanitha urgently needed a nurse at home to look after her. He approached Pradeep Gowda alias Pradeep Kumar, the proprietor of the Gunashree Home Nursing in Hebbal, Mysore in April 2017 and paid up Rs. 10,000 for a home nurse to care for Vanitha for a whole month.
The nurse came for two days, and then never turned up!
Vanitha’s health worsened for want of care and she died on April 28. When Raghuveer demanded that the Home return his money, they refused. After several attempts to recover his money failed, he complained to the Mysore Consumer Forum and its president, H.M. Shivakumara Swamy found the Gunashree Home Nursing guilty of deficient service.
The Forum ordered it to refund Rs. 10,000 to the professor, along with another Rs 10,000 as compensation plus Rs 2000 as court costs. He also ruled that if they did not comply with this order they would face imprisonment and a fine under section 27 of the Consumer Protection Act.
Another sad case was that of K.R. Srishylam of Mysore who approached Vision Good Health Services (VGHS) and its director, Hari Subramanyam (in Mysore) for getting a male home nurse to look after him. He had suffered a spinal injury and pneumonia and had just been discharged from hospital.
VGHS agreed to provide a nurse for a month and charged him Rs. 15,000 for that. However, the home nurse never arrived! Several requests to refund the patient’s money were ignored. Then they gave him a cheque which bounced.
Srishylam too complained to the Mysore Consumer Forum. Once again President H.M. Shivakumara Swamy found the home guilty of deficient service and unfair trade practices and ordered them to refund Rs. 15,000 to the complainant with Rs. 5000 as compensation towards damages and for causing him mental agony. In addition VGHS would have to pay Rs. 3000 as court costs. If they did not comply with this order, they would be fined Rs. 100 as penalty daily and would also face imprisonment.
In hindsight, one does feel that the consumers in these two cases could probably have been a little more cautious. It is always advisable to first do some research, check alternatives listed on the Internet and different reviews, and then shortlist the best places to find home nurses.
Another disturbing and true story is that of Mahesh from Mysore and his wife Madevi, who was pregnant. In November 2016, Madevi was advised by the doctor to get a scan done at the Anagha Scanning Centre in Jayanagara, Mysore to ensure that she was carrying a healthy foetus.
The expecting mother underwent two scans at this centre under the supervision of Dr. Santosh V R, Consultant Radiologist at the clinic. The scanning reports did not disclose any problems with the growth of the foetus. To their immense distress and despair, their son was born with a severely deformed right hand on April 6, 2017.
During the court hearing, the Anagha Scanning Centre claimed that there was no deficiency on their part as none of the reports had revealed any abnormal growth. However, the president of the Consumer Forum ruled that the Centre had probably noticed the defects in the growth of the limbs of the foetus, but had not disclosed it to the couple.
Finding them guilty of deficient service he ordered them to pay up Rs 3 lakh to the disheartened couple plus another Rs 5000 as costs. If they failed to follow this order, they would be fined Rs. 500 per day till they comply.
What these judgments tell us
Most of us would not know how and where to escalate such issues of negligence or lapses in service, especially in a medical situation. However, all three judgments referred to above tell you that even when faced with such situations, in the healthcare domain, you can complain to the consumer forums.
You do not need a lawyer to file your consumer complaint and can raise the issue yourself; however, it is advisable to take as much help as possible from doctors, consumer activists etc. to file your complaint.
For more on how you can file a complaint under the Consumer Protection law, read this.
You can also contact the National Consumer Helpline (NCH), which provides a national toll free number 1-800-11-4000, which the consumer can call to seek information, advice or guidance for his queries and complaints.
For any other consumer queries, you can reach me at: firstname.lastname@example.org