The sombre darkness of Friday midnight saw a ray of hope as a few resident doctors in Maharashtra, who had been on strike since March 20th, decided to finally resume their duties. Now that the storm seems to be receding, it provides an opportunity for us to look back at how the entire situation transpired.
In hindsight, the judiciary’s response to a few rightful demands made by resident doctors had an anomalous character: the court, known for its indolence in making judgements, didn’t just respond with tremendous quickness – it simply flipped out with domineering and irresponsible statements. The government too was quick with offering assurances as it has always been – however, it assumed an overtly heavy-handed position which was unwarranted considering how justified the demands were. And as Hon’ble CM Devendra Fadnavis’ vehemently rhetorical speech coursed out of the Legislative Assembly, it almost laid the blueprint of a dark future for doctors.
I’m sure it gives the government something to brag about when it’s held that Mumbai admittedly has the best public healthcare service in India. But wait, it’s not a phenomenal healthcare infrastructure or an adequate healthcare budget making this possible. What makes it a success is resident doctors dragging on the under-equipped hospitals with the unbelievable amount of work they put in, on a regular basis. Anyone who delves into the nature of a resident’s duty would feel an inward shiver of admiration, especially as they turn their eyes to most other professionals. There are no rules governing their work hours, which sometimes lasts an outrageous 48 hours at a stretch. While many top tier officials enjoy lavish holidays every fortnight, residents scarcely succeed in securing even a mandatory weekly leave. Obliterated personal lives and multiple half-starved nights go without saying.
With this in mind, our respected CM Fadnavis’ assertion that doctors have grown insensitive and have forgotten the ‘Hippocratic Oath’ is an utter abomination. The extent to which resident doctors stand by their oath every single day of their duty is something that many of our elite ministers would dread to even imagine. No doctor ever took the oath knowing that they’d be brutally thrashed for no fault of theirs, neither does the oath include within its scope to continue serving when there is a threat to life. I find it intriguing as to why our respected CM had to even bring in the mention of the Hippocratic oath. Is it a result of pure ignorance of the nature of a resident’s work? Or is the oath a newfound political tool to quell doctor protests? Or is it an attempt to insinuate silent submissiveness to assaults under the scope of the oath?
Our respected CM then goes on to give a half-sound discourse on subsidizing medical education with taxpayers’ money. He, however, fails to mention the fact that every government UG/PG doctor fulfils a rural bond to pay back their due. The same cannot, however, be said about the government, which has failed in providing an adequate healthcare infrastructure in return of taxpayers’ money. The fact is that inadequate healthcare infrastructure has claimed more lives till date than all doctor strikes collectively. On top of that, inadequate infrastructure also happens to be one of the root causes of violence on our healthcare providers.
Strikes are transitory and aren’t meant to last, but sentiments simmer on for a long, long time. The growing public distrust and cynicism towards the treatment offered by our medical practitioners is tangible enough to be felt in the air. This sentiment is much more worrisome than individual episodes of violence, and our powers are supposed to work together with the medical fraternity to root it out. However, the needlessly overbearing approach of the government by threatening doctors of pay cuts and expulsion notices, and then Mr Fadnavis’ speech, did everything possible to attach an immoral character to the doctor strike, which is not remotely true.
A big portion of Mr Fadnavis’ speech focussed on his assumed insensitivity of our healthcare providers, while there was little or no mention of the struggles on the doctor’s side of the story. The speech was designed primarily to challenge the moral consistency of doctors, and not to instruct the layman how to deal professionally with healthcare providers. To a society which thinks so critically of its healthcare providers, Mr Fadnavis’ speech portrayed his government as a stoical and chivalrous hero that is being too patient with its villainous doctors, who are implicated to be refusing to treat the dying for refined pleasures. And maybe even without actually trying to mean any of the above, Mr Fadnavis’ speech had everything it takes to aggravate the problem of doctor violence in India.
Only a small section of our society is able to stomach complicated facts. Long discourses on taxes, budget, and systemic issues affecting healthcare hardly ever succeed in leaving an impression on many people. On the other hand, talks on ‘sacred duties’ of doctors, no matter how preposterous and unreasonable they may be, affect a lot more people far more easily. This becomes a tool for political powers to cleanse their own tainted image, and the situation here seems to be a similar case. It’s high time petty politicising of the medical profession is stopped, and that political powers buckle down to eliminating the grotesque image of doctors – otherwise no amount of armed security would be able to deter our implosion in the country.
The writer, Dr Soham D Bhaduri, is a medical doctor and philosophy of mind enthusiast, and takes keen interest in topics pertaining to mental health and medical education. He blogs at The Free-Thinking Medic.