July 1 was designated as Doctor’s Day by the Government of India in 1991 to honour the memory of Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy, a legendary who also became the second chief minister of West Bengal. The day generally sees a slew of functions to honour members of the medical profession but this year, over 4000 resident doctors from Maharashtra, affliated to the Medical Association of Resident Doctors (MARD), chose to go on an indefinite strike from this day, presurise the state government’s alleged apathy towards their demands.
In any other profession, their demands would seem legitimate. For instance, asking for at least two months paid leave for pregnant lady doctors as well as those contracting TB on the job seems a fairly reasonably expectation. Or even the demand that post-graduates specialising in a particular field have to be posted in the same department during their bond service.
Media reports suggest that the state government has now agreed to most of MARD’s 10 demands after talks with the striking doctors but there are massive trust issues on both sides. On June 12, MARD representatives met the Maharashtra Medical Education Minister, Vinod Tawde and were given a verbal assurance that their demands would be met. However, they later realised that only four of their 10 demands were listed in the minutes of the meeting and hence were forced to carry out their threat to go on strike from July 1.
The strike is sure to inconvenience patients and their relatives, who will be in no position to appreciate the larger issues at stake: the scarcity of trained medical staff, especially in rural areas, etc. This will only add to the perception that practitioners of what was once considered a noble profession, nay calling, have today morphed into extortionists, accused of first judging the purse and then the pulse of a patient.
Incidents like these have pushed modern day medical practitioners and in fact anyone associated with the healthcare sector, off their pedestal, with the halo exchanged for horns. Today, every section of the healthcare delivery chain – doctors, hospitals, diagnostic chains – are seen as cesspools of corruption. Every touch point is perceived
to be tainted.
Which is why we chose to focus on the dark side of India’s healthcare sector in Express Healthcare‘s July issue, the Doctor’s Day Special issue. The good news is that the introspection has started from within. At least some doctors seem to be practicing the adage: Physician, heal thyself. The most famous recent example is Dr Arun Gadre, Coordinator, Support for Advocacy and Training to Health Initiatives (SATHI) who published the testimonies of 78 like-minded doctors, in his book titled, ‘Voices of Conscience from the Medical Profession.’ Luckily, Dr Gadre is not alone. Dr Debal Sen, a Kolkata- based independent consultant, who has also spoken out against his fellow doctors, is one more example of a band of doctors who have stuck to their principles while weathering personal hardship.
For sure, there is another side to this story. Dr Ramakant Panda, Vice Chairman and MD, Asian Heart Institute raises equally valid points of defense, citing the high capitation fees for medical college, the long years of study, the high cost of building a practice, etc. Do read more of this debate in our cover story, ‘God incarnate or fallen angel?’ (pages 24-29) as well as two hard hitting guest articles: ‘Is it truly ‘test’ worthy?’, by Sunil K Pandya from the Department of Neurosurgery at Mumbai’s Jaslok Hospital & Research Centre (pages 30-31) and ‘Sickness industry and corruption’ by Professor BM Hegde, renowned physician and former Vice-Chancellor of Manipal University (pages 32-33).
Mainline media has of course done their bit, offering a ready platform to aggreived patients and their relatives. In fact, international journals like the British Medical Journal seem to have chosen India as the poster boy of corrupt practices within the medical/ pharma industry. This is part of a larger pan-country campaign, probably in the hope that the solutions too must come from the same ecosystem. Here’s the link to a BMJ blogpost on Doctor’s Day: (http://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2015/06/30/doctors-day-in-india/). The two authors have shown the way forward, pinpointing a few areas which they feel are important for medical professionals in India to contemplate and respond.
As I write this, The Indian Express Group launches a new branding campaign with the tag line: The Indian Express. For the Indian Intelligent. I am sure Express Healthcare addresses this section of the audience within the healthcare fraternity. Because we believe that our readers do not want to be on a pedestal, but want to find lasting solutions. Not a pat on the back, but a mirror to the faults, all the better to correct them; an informed analysis, based on sustained and close interaction with practitioners themselves. Do tell us how we can continue to live up to our tagline.