I happened to catch the episode of a popular Bengali soap, Aamar Durga, that was aired on Zee Bangla on 1 August, 2016, and was greatly dismayed by a rather unfortunate segment that found place in it. It's a sequence in which Durga, the female protagonist, rushes into a government hospital with a child who had burnt his hand while playing with crackers. As she requests an admission, the nursing staff is shown to turn her down on account of the unavailability of beds in the hospital. What then follows is a vehement protest (designed carefully to target the sentiments of the viewers) by the protagonist which raises an alarm in the mind of the superintendent who is forced to break out of his corrupt character and accept the patient.
Anyone who has even a minimum association with Indian healthcare will know about the escalating cases of violence against doctors in India.
Amidst all this, there were three things that were crystal clear to me:
1. The production crew had absolutely no idea of the actual picture out there, and didn't care about gaining it either, before filming the sequence.
2. There was a clear intent to highlight that the "unavailability of beds" is an excuse used by government hospitals to shirk their work, and to portray doctors as a depraved, heartless breed.
3. The prejudice against doctors which once occupied the minds of the big, nationwide media houses has now trickled into our regional soap operas.
Anyone who has even a minimum association with Indian healthcare will know about the escalating cases of violence against doctors in India. I mean, the frequency with which I catch news of a resident doctor in a government hospital being beaten up by a patient's cronies has shot through the roof. I'm not someone who believes in covering up the blemishes in his clan, and I do understand that there are and always have been doctors who can be labelled as depraved and vile. But the steady rise in cases of violence against doctors, day by day, suggests that something is kindling an inordinate amount of hostility towards medical professionals today. Many of my colleagues and seniors across the nation are busy brainstorming and scouring for mistakes within themselves, which they believe is a major contributor to all of this. Be that as it may, a callous attitude of the media, their prejudice against the medical fraternity, and their major role in degrading the image of this profession are things any sensible mind would be able to perceive.
Why is nearly every resident doctor in a government hospital working a 100+-hour work week, often without weekends and with a miserable pay?
Now, tell me what does it imply when, in one part of a sequence, you show a doctor denying admission to a patient due to unavailability of beds and in the very next one, a few petty threats make him overturn his decision? Does the doctor deny treatment just because it's fun? Or because he wants to escape his job that he toils for over 10 years just to be eligible for? Why is nearly every resident doctor in a government hospital working a 100+-hour work week, often without weekends and with a miserable pay? Is it that doctors enjoy immunity from the consequences of their deeds? Why does the number of assaults on doctors exceed that of any other professional? Why do we have one of the highest rates of suicide? Why do the grievances of the medical fraternity not receive any redressal whatsoever from the government?
There are bad folks just as much there are good ones. Why are doctors stereotyped (as in the serial I mentioned here) as snobbish, heartless and villainous? The truth is that doctors today are the most vulnerable group of professionals: a relative that is nowhere to be found when their patient needs their blood suddenly finds it to be their moral responsibility to inflict punishment on the doctor when things go askew. Corporate powers bully doctors in private institutions and saddle them with morally reprehensible responsibilities. The government would never venture to go against predominant public sentiments, let alone admit its own failings in affirming patient care in the country. These issues are hardly ever covered by any media house or soap opera.
If this continues, we'll arrive at a day when no bright student will opt to be a doctor.
I believe it's futile to call upon the media to act in line with their moral responsibility. It's completely understandable that they're going to continue making their TRPs even if it means excoriating people who save lives on a daily basis. However, they may be inciting a calamity in society that won't leave them unscathed either. The media and entertainment industries have a tremendous influence on their viewers. Many of those viewers believe what is told to them and do not bother to cross-check facts or explore ground realities. Nobody knows how many naïve minds have already been tainted by that single episode of the programme.
If this continues, we'll arrive at a day when no bright student will opt to be a doctor. Patient care is a shared responsibility, and the doctor isn't always the one responsible for your problems with the government hospital, no matter how soft a target they may seem. While you may punish your doctor for the untimely death of your loved one, the root of your problem might very possibly be in the government, the democracy, or mother nature herself.