On June 2, 2016, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court decreed that doctors at King George’s Medical University (KGMU), Lucknow would pay for the death of patients caused by their four-day strike. As per the TOI, about 350 KGMU junior doctors protested against fresh admissions in PG courses, based on additional marks to candidates of provincial medical health services who had served in rural areas.
Seemingly, the draconian attitude towards doctors that keeps reflecting in the government has now infested the judiciary. Being an addition to the long list of measures suggesting the unfairly partial treatment with doctors among other professionals, this stand of the judiciary not only casts aspersions on our concept of democracy but also defies the implied norms of a civilised human society.
There’s no denying of the fact that a career in medicine comes with great accountability. Their responsibilities extend beyond the professional horizon, their wishes and their choices. But apart from these, an Indian doctor is a citizen of a democratic nation, which comes with certain fundamental rights. The court’s statement that doctors in public institutions had no legal right to strike work raises serious questions on how we interpret the meaning of a democratic society. Are strikes and protests done for recreation? Is the right to protest against wrongdoings reserved for a precise, privileged section of the society? What, then, about the wrong and at times, detrimental decisions made by the judiciary (as is being widely voiced)? What about a policeman who refuses to turn up on time and without a bribe? I am not here to comment on how justified the purpose of the protest was but the way it has been dealt with clearly suggests that we fail to think beyond anything but short term fixes for our problems, and that there is a serious malady with the leadership of this nation.
This very episode proves how vital a resource junior doctors are in the operation of our healthcare system. Junior doctors tackle most of the workload of a hospital. They work tirelessly in the most compromised and enervating environments. However, most of our recent measures in relation to them have only sought to coerce and bulldoze them into doing what we want them to do. There has hardly been any affirmative step towards enriching their working environment, and many of their justified protests have been met with nothing but deaf ears. Is this the way we treat a precious national resource? Certainly, measures like these are sure to come around against our own favour, and set a bad example for the upcoming generation of doctors in the already precarious environment existing today.
Recently, in an attempt to cope with the sombre doctor shortage facing the country, the government announced that the retirement age of doctors be raised to 65 years. Interestingly, the same government that seeks to affirm the experienced, aged workforce has been highly neglectful of the expectations of the young, vibrant talent, on which rests the future of medicine in India. Our measures to contain the young workforce, right from restricting their immigration to the US to the compulsory rural stints, have only attracted their outrage and infuriation, have come as a beat down to their hopes, and have mostly been regressive, primitive, short term fixes. At each of these measures, we have lacked the insight as to what could be their long-term repercussions. Every now and then I witness someone who learnedly thinks that it is no more a wise choice to be a doctor in this country. Every such measure steals a portion of the attraction and glamour associated with the medical profession. This lack of insight may very likely cost an arm and leg to our healthcare system, and operate a vicious circle of protests — more such measures, more protests and outcries — which will finally take a toll on the nation itself.
People in the top echelons of our administration need to refer to the scientific model of human learning. Presently, they seem like a desperate parent who is unaware that punishments deprave children unless they are followed with positive reinforcements. Positive reinforcements are the way to learning. There is no doubt about it that protests without an adequate purpose deserve disciplinary action, considering the accountability of the medical profession but such measures should not convey any prejudice or go so far as to alienate the workforce. Unfortunately, the feeling that doctors are being discriminated against among other professionals is catching on and quite possibly, at this very moment, an indignant doctor in some corner of this country might be sulking in his home and bad mouthing the system.
Dr Soham D Bhaduri is a medical graduate and a Philosophy of Mind enthusiast, and takes keen interest in writing on Healthcare and Medical Education. He blogs at The Free Thinking Medic (www.freethinkingmedic.blogspot.com).