The National Medical Commission (NMC) Bill has now become an Act after President Ram Nath Kovind signed it. A series of protests by the Indian Medical Association, doctors and medical students against the Bill has shaken the nation. Medical practitioners and students are protesting against the dissolving of the Medical Council of India, the new way of conducting medical examinations and the preference for private medical colleges over government institutions.
Copies of the Act were burnt by the Indian Medical Association and various medical colleges. The present unrest is making many conscious people think which way is our healthcare progressing? What is the future of the Indian health system? Has it really improved when compared with developed nations like the UK, the US, Japan or Germany? The answer to these questions is: humanitarian aspects are deteriorating by the day in healthcare in India.
At a Nascent Stage
Public relations in healthcare in the nation is still at a nascent stage. It has tragically not matured except for a few exceptions. The simple reason behind this is Indian health public relations lacks the true humanitarian touch. It is all about hurried propaganda of certain medical achievements by doctors, expansion of technical/medical collaborations between corporate hospitals and tours to foreign territories sponsored by pharmaceutical companies for doctors and certain health journalists.
Corporate culture in large-scale private hospitals is largely responsible for the lack of proper human relations. There are, of course, a few exceptions. Like when patients discover an affectionate guardian in Dr G Chandra Sekhar, a reputed ophthalmologist, when he treats them.
The continuous rise in prices of many essential drugs makes them unaffordable for the common man. Though medical insurance is increasing in importance, a majority of patients cannot avail treatment in corporate hospitals. The unanswered question remains: Does the common man not have a fundamental right to receive medical attention on a par with the affluent? The responsibility on all government hospitals to rightly treat the sick has not lessened.
The best medical practitioners and professionals still originate from government hospitals. But the increasing amount of pressures they, their juniors and interns work under are serious concerns, which go unnoticed. Thus they do commit mistakes and are more manhandled publicly than their counterparts in corporate hospitals. The seven-day strike by thousands of medical students in June in West Bengal was in protest against such atrocities.
With inputs from the IMA and other faculties like police and medical practice related personalities, the Union Health Ministry is planning to put rectification in the current NMC Act. The Act promises strict punishment like imprisonment up to ten years for criminals thrashing people of healthcare fraternity. The Act is awaiting certain amendments to make it more acceptable. The West Bengal Clinical Establishment Act was introduced in 2017. It was done to rein in wrong treatment, correct inflated medical bills and usher in a sense of commitment and discipline.
Seldom have steps been taken to stop corporate hospitals from playing foul. Relations between doctors, paramedical staff and patients are running mainly on a commercial basis. The result is a cold-blooded, heartless situation where humanity takes a back seat. Gone are the days when patients looked up to the likes of Dr BC Roy as a demigod. A patient should consider a true doctor a fatherly figure. A doctor should treat any patient like his own kith and kin.
Violence on not only doctors but on any human being too must be severely condemned. However, what about the lives of countless patients who suffer due to regular strikes by doctors and paramedical staff. It is a tragedy to notice countless people queuing up at emergency wards and out-patient department (OPDs) of government hospitals, expecting treatment but being refused due to closures.
No Moral Obligation
The case of too many cease works by resident doctors of various hospitals as well as medical students has hampered healthcare of the common man. A sensitive mind cannot but shed tears seeing patients being deprived of proper treatment due to these strikes. Don’t the medical practitioners have any moral obligation toward these patients? If not why are they in the noble profession of medicine.
It is well-understood that well-known senior doctors throughout the nation are overworked. They are also human beings and need rest as well as leisure. Patients look up to these practitioners as divine figures. Any betrayal from their side is not acceptable to society. Doctor Mani Chetri, a medicine and heart specialist of yore from Bengal, once stated that medical people should not go on strike as it is a social evil.
An American soldier at the Vietnamese war front asked his sergeant how to kill as he had never killed before. This saga was made immortal by Pete Seeger in the form of a song. Moribund bourgeois decadence is silently killing the human touch in the Indian health world.
It has turned into the rigmarole of heartless corporate mentality backed by technology and not thinking and caring minds. Surely our healthcare is treading the wrong path. A modern classless society sans political manipulations and a feeling of togetherness among doctors and patients as well as the government can be a silver lining in the clouds for Indian healthcare.
(The author is a freelancer based in Kolkata)