Minister of State for Health Dinesh Trivedi is a busy man these days. In the last few days, he had to contend with two flash strikes by junior doctors — one in Rajasthan and another in Delhi. Both have been called off for now after the state and the central governments (health is a state subject) assured the striking doctors adequate security cover. However, Mr Trivedi’s initial response had been the usual: get back to duty or face consequences.
It is true that medical service is an essential service, nothing is more precious than a human life and doctors are duty-bound to protect patients. Yet, one fails to understand why instead of demonising the doctors, the state or the Centre has always shied away from providing what doctors have been demanding for long: security. Ad hocism in handling such strikes has ensured that the issue of security, a just demand, has always been brushed under the carpet once the doctors rejoin work.
Junior medics form the backbone of the healthcare system and they are the ones who interact daily with the families of patients. In government hospitals, infrastructure is mostly inadequate, patient load is always disproportionately high and doctors often find themselves at the receiving end of public ire, as doctors in Delhi and Jodhpur found out once again. In this scenario, isn’t it the government’s duty to ensure that the junior doctors are allowed to do their duty minus any outside interference? In fact, from the patients’ point of view too, such unnecessary interference by their family members can prove to be an unproductive exercise. Two years ago, the Rajasthan government promised to deploy policemen in medical colleges to contain recurring clashes between patients’ families and medical staff but the Jodhpur incident shows that this promises has remained unfulfilled. If doctors fail to discharge their duties properly, they must be hauled up but that can only be done after it is established that they are at fault. A family that has lost a loved one cannot be allowed to discharge what in other times would be called ‘mob justice’. In addition to the doctors, the ancillary staff is also routinely exposed to security hazards.
The Indian health system is in severe shortage of doctors, especially in the rural sector. If the government is keen on attracting young talent, we must ensure that they too are assured of certain basic essentials, security being the foremost. Hopefully, this time round, the government will keep its promise.