The sombre darkness of Friday midnight saw a ray of hope as a few resident doctors in Maharashtra, who had been on strike since 20 March, 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.
To begin with, the judiciary's response to a few rightful demands made by doctors was completely uncalled for and downright irresponsible. The government too responded with a heavy hand, with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis delivering a vehemently rhetorical speech in the Legislative Assembly. Threatening "legal action" against striking doctors he said, "Tell me, what is the difference between the people who beat doctors and those who kill patients (by not treating them)?" It almost laid the blueprint of a dark future for doctors.
Mr Fadnavis' speech contained the kind of rhetoric that might just aggravate the problem of violence against doctors in India.
I'm sure the government doesn't hesitate to brag about Mumbai having the best public healthcare in India. But wait—it's not phenomenal healthcare infrastructure or a great healthcare budget making this possible. What make it a success are resident doctors toiling endlessly in under-equipped hospitals, regularly putting in excessively long hours. Anyone who delves into the nature of a resident's duty would feel an inward shiver of embarrassment when they think about their own professional complaints. There are no rules governing their work hours, which sometimes last 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 are par for the course.
With this in mind, our respected CM Fadnavis's 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 might struggle to even imagine. Yet, 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 a pledge to continue serving even when there is a threat to life. I find it intriguing as to why our respected CM even mentioned 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 doctors' protests?
Our respected CM then goes on to give a discourse on subsidising 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 for 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.
Inadequate healthcare infrastructure has claimed more lives till date than all doctor strikes collectively... it also happens to be one of the root causes of violence against doctors.
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 powerful 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 with pay cuts and expulsion notices, and then Mr Fadnavis's speech, did everything possible to attach an immoral character to the doctors' strike, which is not remotely true. A big portion of the speech focused on the assumed insensitivity of our healthcare providers, while there was little or no mention of the struggles of doctors. 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' s speech portrayed his government as a stoical and chivalrous hero that is being too patient with its villainous doctors who are refusing to treat the dying for refined pleasures. And perhaps unintentionally, Mr Fadnavis' speech contained the kind of rhetoric that might just aggravate the problem of violence against doctors 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 rarely leave 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. It's high time petty politicising of the medical profession is stopped, and that the political powers buckle down to eliminate the grotesque image of doctors—otherwise no amount of armed security will be able to deter our implosion in the country.