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Why are the poor attacking doctors in India?

What is most unusual about the latest attack is that two women assaulted a lady gynaecologist

pune Updated: Oct 10, 2017 14:44 IST
Abhay Vaidya
The YCM hospital was the site of the latest attack by patients on doctors.
The YCM hospital was the site of the latest attack by patients on doctors.(HT Photo)

The third attack on a doctor in the Pune region in a matter of just about 29 days happened on Saturday at the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation’s Yashwantrao Chavan Memorial Hospital (YCMH). What is most unusual about the latest attack is that it is two women who assaulted gynaecologist Dr.Priyanka Patil (26).

The person who slapped Dr. Patil was the mother of the 25-year-old pregnant woman, Neelam Umap, who lost her child as it was stillborn. According to the FIR filed with the Pimpri Police, along with the mother, another woman assaulted Dr. Patil, dragging her by the hair and hurting her physically. The FIR states that the relatives of the pregnant woman were furious with the loss of the child and blamed the doctor for negligence. The hospital superintendent, however, explained that the child was unfortunately stillborn and there was little that the doctors could do to save its life.

Once again, as happened with the assault on a Pune doctor on September 19, the assailants were not habitual criminals or political hoodlums. They were simple folk who attacked the doctors out of extreme frustration.

Why are doctors coming under attack from patients and their relatives, especially those who are poor?

The typical response of doctors is to go on strike and demand stiff punishment for the assailants and better security for themselves. They don’t seem to see anything beyond that.

One media professional said on Twitter: “I believe in spiritual training lies the solution,” while blaming the media for planting “unrest in readers ‘or viewers’ minds…” without providing any solutions.

In a previous column I had mentioned that the attack on a Pune doctor on September 19 was the result of “a poor man’s frustration over the cost of medical treatment”.

Once again, we are confronted by the fact that Indian society no longer respects doctors the way it used to. Doctors, hospitals and the medical profession in general are viewed with considerable suspicion by the public. People genuinely fear that they are being fleeced by their doctors and hospitals in a variety of ways.

Here’s what Amy Kazmin, the New Delhi correspondent of Financial Times, London, wrote in an article headlined ‘Patients attack doctors for India’s healthcare failings’ (June 8, 2017).

The context for her article was the vicious attack on a Dhule doctor by the relatives of an accident victim who succumbed to his injuries. The foreign journalist noted that this assault was part of a “growing series of violent assaults on doctors by patients and their families, infuriated by the poor state of India’s public hospitals”.

In her words, increasingly, when patients failed to obtain timely treatment — or did not survive critical illnesses and injuries — the families vented out their frustration on the doctors “who are on the front lines of the collapsing system”.

A “deepening healthcare crisis is enveloping India,” Amy said, in the form of overburdened public hospitals which are unable to cope with the flow of patients seeking treatment, and private hospitals that are beyond the reach of the vast majority of people.

This brings us to the point made earlier: Attacks on doctors in India is a social issue, not a criminal act. The Indian public healthcare system needs basic reforms to bring down costs and improve the quality of service. The government, doctors, hospitals and the medical profession as a whole needs to take up healthcare reforms as a part of their responsibility for a better India.

abhay.vaidya@hindustantimes.com