IT TOOK SEVEN days for the West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee to do what she should have done on the first or second day of the incident in which a junior doctor was attacked by the relatives of a patient who died while being treated in a government hospital in Kolkata.
The adamant attitude of Mamata Banerjee, which is not peculiar only to this incident, caused pain and problems to lakhs of patients not only in her state but across the country following a call given by the Indian Medical Association for a day-long strike. The situation was threatening to worsen but thankfully Mamata Banerjee was forced to give up her adamant stand and talk to the agitating doctors.
All she needed to have done was to visit the injured doctor and assured the medical community that she was concerned over the attack. Instead she went on a tangent and attempted to bring in communal and political angle to what is a smouldering problem of doctor-patient relationship.
It is well known, and experienced by lakhs of us, that the doctor is considered a God when he successfully treats and brings back patients from the verge of death. There are daily routine scenes in hospitals or clinics when people are seen thanking doctors. And yes there are scenes of anger and resentment if the patient does not get well. The emotionally charged relatives of such patients at times loose patience which results in assault on doctors.
Most often it is the lack of communication between the doctor and the relatives of patients either due to over worked doctors or the juniors finding little time to patiently converse with the relatives or due to a lack of training to deal with such situations.
It is, therefore, necessary that the doctors, particularly at the time of their induction to the field, that they are given training to handle relatives of patients at such emotional moments.
At the same the general public needs to be sensitised and even warned that any attack on doctors would attract swift and serious legal action.
It is true that while a vast majority of doctors undertake their duties with due diligence but commercialism has led to unethical practices in some of the private hospitals.
In fact no less than 19 states have approved a law providing for action against those assaulting doctors on duty. The Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property Act for protection of medical service persons and Medicare service institutions provides for a jail term upto three years and a fine of upto Rs 50,000 for physical attack on doctors and medical staff.
Apparently it has not deterred general public from assaulting doctors when things go wrong. The long drawn out litigations and lack of evidence often leads to such cases linger in the courts or fail in the long run.
It is important that such notifications are prominently displayed in the premises or Hospitals and dispensaries. It is all the more important to bring the assaulters to book at the earliest through fast track route.
It is true that while a vast majority of doctors undertake their duties with due diligence and subscribe to the Hippocratic oath which includes a promise that they would treat patients to the best of their ability and preserve the privacy of their patients but commercialism has led to unethical practices in some of the private hospitals.
Otherwise known to be well equipped and maintaining high standards of hygiene, some of the these hospitals are known to set targets for their doctors who, in turn, are forced to recommend surgeries and tests even where these are not required.
This has led to dwindling public faith in these hospitals but with little alternatives. However nothing much can be done in the given circumstances. The situation of the government hospitals and dispensaries is pathetic. These is acute shortage of doctor and medical staff and attention to hygiene and cleanliness is totally missing. With the increasing number of patients, the situation is getting from bad to worse.
No wonder it has led to increasing incidents of people losing patience but then to target doctors is not the remedy. Action must be taken swiftly against those breaking the law.
What is required is an institutional mechanism to deal with the problems. It is not possible or to provide each doctor including those posted in remote areas, to provide security. However alternatives like easy accessibility to senior doctors or administrative officers to complain about junior doctors or seek redressal of grievances must be put in place.
People need to be sensitised. Doctors are not gods and there is only upto a limit that they can medically intervene. This dichotomy of doctors being blamed for things getting wrong needs to be addressed. No doctor worth his salt would let his patient die or suffer. There is also dire need for opening more medical colleges and add to the current strength of doctors.
If incident like the one in West Bengal are not checked it could led to serious consequences. While the West Bengal Government has arrested almost all the accused in the assault it was important for it to have engaged with the doctors to avoid such incidents in the future.
(The author, a freelance journalist, is a former Resident Editor of Indian Express, Chandigarh, and reported on the political developments in Jammu and Kashmir, North-Eastern India, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab in his long, illustrious career.)
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