Doctors traditionally have never been able to raise their voice in unison. Perhaps earlier they were too engrossed in serving the patients, and now most of those working in the private sector are too busy minting money. So it came as a surprise when the Indian Medical Association (IMA) announced a nationwide agitation in support of their long standing demands, including framing of stringent laws against increasing cases of doctors being manhandled by angry patients or their attendants and relatives for no fault of their own.
The doctors are resorting to a nationwide pen down strike on June 6, during which medical services both in the government and private sector, excluding emergency services, will come to a grinding halt for half a day (till 2 p.m.). On a call by IMA for ‘Dilli Chalo’ more than 5,000 doctors from across the country are expected to congregate at Rajghat in New Delhi for a rally that day and subsequently a memorandum of demands of medical professionals will be submitted to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
Addressing a media conference at the Chandigarh Press Club on Saturday Chandigarh chapter of the IMA informed that 100-plus doctors from the tricity will join their brethren in Delhi for the protest. The media persons were addressed by Dr Ajay Aggarwal, President, IMA Chandigarh, Dr Neeraj Kumar, President elect, Dr RS Bedi, past President, Dr TD Yadav, President, Faculty Association, PGI.
(From left to right) Dr Neeraj Kumar, President elect, IMA, Chandigarh, Dr TD Yadav, President, Faculty Association, PGI, Dr Ajay Aggarwal, President, IMA, Chandigarh and Dr RS Bedi, past President, addressing media persons.
Listing out the various demands, they said incidents of violence against doctors on duty are on the increase and very few offenders have been brought to book. Under the circumstances, a central law under PIC, which is more stringent than the currently applicable Prevention of Violence Against Medical Personnel and Establishment Act, 2009, needs to be enacted as a deterrence.
They said despite Supreme Court rulings that doctors should be criminally prosecuted in rarest of rare cases where gross negligence has been proved by a competent medical board, criminal prosecution and arrest of doctors under sections 304 and 304A on patients’ complaints of medical negligence is increasingly becoming common even for minor procedural issues like not signing on forms, not wearing name plate or apron, etc. More than 70 doctors in Punjab alone have been prosecuted on this count during the last four years, they added.
Cap on amount of compensation in cases of medical negligence, as in other cases like road accidents, rail accidents and complications during tubectomy operations, and discontinuation of permission granted to ayurvedic doctors to practice and prescribe allopathic medicine in some BJP ruled states like Maharashtra, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh are among the other demands raised by the IMA.
Regarding mandatory prescription of only generic drugs, the doctors felt that it will only benefit the chemists who will give brands from whom they get the biggest margins. The best solution is for the government to discontinue grant of licences to pharmaceutical companies to formulate and market 2-3 different packages of the same medicine at different prices. Adopting a “One drug, one company, one price” policy will help resolve this problem, they added.
The IMA has also advocated increase in government’s budgetary allocation for health from the current measly 1.3 percent to 5 percent of the GDP to improve infrastructure for providing primary and emergency services to the common man.
The other side of the coin
While the government is insistent on mandatory prescription of generic medicines, many doctors have been guilty of prescribing expensive brands on their promise of expensive junkets and other freebies. To this observation the IMA, Chandigarh leaders replied that strongly worded circulars have been despatched to all IMA members warning of strict action if they are found to be indulging in such malpractices. Such misdemeanours can even lead to their membership of IMA being cancelled. Patients are welcome to send their specific complaints in this regard to IMA, Chandigarh, they added.
The doctors also admitted that due to lack of unity and cohesiveness within the medical fraternity, their advocacy of various issues with the government in their own interests and in the interests of patients at large has been an area of concern. They were hopeful that with the strength provided by success of the June 6 action, IMA will be catapulted into a more aggressive action mode in the future.