Services in Delhi government hospitals affected as 20,000 striking doctors protest NMC bill
Thousands of doctors and medical students in Delhi went on a strike on Thursday to protest the National Medical Commission (NMC) bill in a move that paralysed services in most government hospitals in the national capital.
Several government hospitals, including All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and Safdarjung Hospital, had to scale back on their routine clinics and cancel scheduled surgeries on Thursday with nearly 20,000 resident doctors and students striking work.
The Union minister for health Dr Harsh Vardhan will table the bill, which sets out to regulate medical education in the country, in the Rajya Sabha for consulting and passing at 11am on Thursday.
“Passed by the Lok Sabha, #NationalMedicalCommissionBill will be put up in the Rajya Sabha for ‘Considering & Passing’ tomorrow, 2019. On the basis of my long experience of medical and public life, I assure the people that this historic bill will bring about a major change in the field of health education. #NMC,” the minister tweeted late on Wednesday.
The bill, which seeks to replace the graft-tainted Medical Council of India (MCI), got the nod of the Lok Sabha on July 29.
More than 50,000 people are treated in the out-patient clinics of hospitals run by various government agencies in Delhi every day. Around 40% of these patients travel from neighbouring states for treatment.
AIIMS alone performs about 100 routine surgeries a day, most of which have to be cancelled. The strike management plan for the hospital states that “for routine surgeries, patients will be taken up as per feasibility and mutual agreement of the faculty. Emergency cases will be taken up as per requirement.”
Authorities at AIIMS have restricted the OPD clinics for only people with prior appointments and those coming for follow-ups.
At Safdarjung Hospital across the road, only follow-up patients are being allowed in for OPD clinics and those scheduled for routine surgeries will have to come back at a later date.
Emergency services in the hospital will also be affected by the protest.
“We have about 1,600 resident doctors working in the hospital and they have withdrawn from all services, including emergency services, from 9am,” said Dr Sunil Gupta, medical superintendent at Safdarjung hospital.
“We have a plan in place. The 450 to 500 faculty members will manage most of the work today, but services, even in the emergency department, will be affected as more patient start coming in throughout the day,” Dr Gupta said.
At the biggest Delhi government-run Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital the out-patient clinics that start from 8am have been restricted only for follow-up patients. The hospital management is looking into whether the emergency department can be run properly or needs to be shut down.
“Let me assess the situation, for now, it is being managed by the senior doctors,” said Dr Kishore Singh, medical director of Lok Nayak hospital.
Doctors have said they are against some of the provisions of the new bill, mainly the proposal for a common exam — National Exit Test (NEXT) —as the final year exam for the undergraduate course, a licentiate exam for a career in medicine, as an entrance test for postgraduate courses, and a screening test for students graduating from foreign countries.
Section 45 of the bill also threatens the autonomy of the NMC, the doctors say. It allows the central government to override any recommendations or suggestions by the NMC and give directions to it and the autonomous boards regarding policy matters.
The doctors are also concerned about the reduction in the number of elected representatives from 75% in the Medical Council of India to 20% in NMC. They are also against the fee regulation for about 50% of seats down from 85% by the state governments.
“The NMC bill in its current form is unacceptable … We will continue the strike if the government pushes through with the bill in the current form,” Dr Sumedh Sandanshiv, president of the Federation of Resident Doctors’ Association, said.
Doctors and private practitioners in Delhi, Chandigarh, Mumbai and Thane had on Wednesday joined the 24-hour nationwide protest against the NMC bill.
The strike was called by the Indian Medical Association (IMA), which is the country’s top body representing the medical fraternity with around 300,000 members.