Private doctors strike work to protest proposed legislation

Supreme Court notice to Indian Medical Association on plea challenging strike

By Dinsa Sachan
Published: Monday 25 June 2012

The one-day strike called by the Indian Medical Association (IMA) on June 25 to protest some key reforms proposed by the government evoked mixed response. While many private practitioners across the country abstained from work, doctors working in government hospitals and private hospitals were mostly on duty. The IMA is protesting three things: the Clinical Establishment Bill, that prescribes certain standards for all small and big clinical establishments; the proposed National Commission for Human Resource of Health (NCHRH), which will subsume the medical, nursing and pharmacy councils; and the proposed shortening of medical degree course for rural doctors.

A non-profit challenged the strike in the Supreme Court, which issued a notice to IMA, noting it expected the doctors to refrain from going on strike in the interest of patients. Rabin Mazumder, lawyer of People for Better Treatment, the petitioner, said the court declined to grant a stay, but issued a notice.

R N Tandon, honorary joint secretary of IMA, said the new reforms proposed by the government are detrimental not only for doctors but also the general public.

The Clinical Establishment Bill, he says, calls for certain standards that all small and big clinics and hospitals must follow, such as mandatory registration. Tandon says this will put irrational demands on smaller practitioners and thwart medical access in remote areas.

He also opposed setting up of NCHRH which will subsume the medical, nursing and pharmacy councils. He said while on the one hand the government is decentralising governance by pushing for the panchayati raaj, on the other hand, it's trying to centralise medical regulation.

On the shortened course for rural doctors, he said that the government can't distinguish between urban and rural patients. “If they can't bring doctors to rural areas, its their problem,” he says. “They can't jeopardise the health of rural people by allowing people with incomplete training to treat them.”

More load on government health centres

While Tandon says the strike was in full force, not all doctors refused to work. Raman Deepawat, chief medical officer of Kaithun block, around 15 km from Kota town in Rajasthan, said he did not go on strike, though, he supports the IMA initiative. “As government doctors, we are not allowed to go on strike,” he says. Deepawat informs that private doctors in the area struck work and closed their doors on patients. This has increased the patient load at government health centres in the area.

Similarly, Sushum Sharma, head of internal medicine in Max Hospital in Delhi, says that while he sympathises with IMA, he was on duty as he works for a corporate hospital which is open.

Delhi-based neo-natal specialist, Ajay Gambhir, however, said he stands firm by the IMA call and refused to see any patients. Gambhir is a honorary joint secretary with IMA.

Secretary with the non-profit, People for Better Treatment, Malay Ganguly said it's illegal for doctors to go on strike according to Medical Council of India rules. “When they take the Hippocratic Oath, they affirm they will not go on strike and always be available to attend patients.” He said even one day of strike could lead to thousands of deaths across the country.

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