Empty waiting halls greeted visitors at Bengaluru’s Vikram, Manipal and Fortis hospitals. Two doctors each were handling the emergency wards in these hospitals, the Outpatient Department was closed and patients who had made appointments for consultation, were rescheduled, due to the doctors’ strike in Karnataka. None of the doctors were present in other departments and the hospitals were sending back patients who were walking in for consultations.
Over 60,000 doctors from 45,000-odd hospitals are on a strike, demanding that the proposed amendment to the Karnataka Private Medical Establishment Act be scrapped.
“The emergency ward is functioning. We are not admitting anyone and all consultation appointments for today have been rescheduled. Only if the patients are in an extremely critical condition, we will admit them. We are informing the patients about the strike,” said a doctor who works with Manipal Hospitals, who wished to remain anonymous.
“This place would be filled on any other day,” said a receptionist at Vikram Hospital said, while pointing at the empty sofas in the waiting area.
Why are doctors striking?
On Friday, doctors across Karnataka refused to go to work demanding that the “draconian proposals” in the Karnataka Private Medical Establishment Act be removed. The KPMEA Bill is likely to be tabled in the Karnataka Assembly soon, and the state government has put it forward with the claim of making private healthcare affordable and better regulated for the benefit of common people.
Private hospitals have however strongly opposed the Bill. Stating that the Bill is ‘draconian’, a doctor at Manipal Hospital said that the doctors have informed the government that they would quit their jobs if their demands are not met.
“The new Bill states that a Local Inspection Committee can barge into the hospital at any given point of time, seize any equipment at any given point of time. Doctors don’t even have the right to speak to the lawyer if he or she gets arrested. We can get arrested based on just one complaint without even conducting a proper inquiry. Is it not draconian? We are also citizens of this country and we have every right to protest against any injustice caused to us,” the doctor said.
For patients, though, the strike is a major inconvenience.
Bhargav, a 27-year-old IT professional had paid a visit to Fortis Hospital on Friday. He had come in ECG report and was hoping to consult a cardiologist.
“I had to take time off from work and come here. I was told there are no doctors and that they are on strike. Now I have to take another holiday for consulting a doctor,” Bhargav said.
And although the emergency wards are functioning, the fact that hospitals are not admitting any patients is a problem for many.
Neelima, a 47-year-old homemaker, had rushed her 72-year-old father-in-law, Kumar to Manipal Hospital’s emergency ward after he complained of breathing difficulty.
“My husband and I got him here a while ago. The doctors are treating him. They said that we had to take him home in a couple of hours and that he could not be admitted for observation today as the doctors are on strike. Currently, the doctors said he is doing fine but we are scared. What if it relapses once we take him home?” Neelima questioned.
Hospitals, however, say that they are monitoring serious cases and that their strike does not mean they’re forgetting their duty.
Dr Keshavan, who was working in the emergency ward at Fortis Hospital said that the doctors there are assessing all cases. “Doctors at emergency shift are working as they would on any other day. This is an inconvenience but we are on strike because nobody is concerned about us. A doctor can get arrested on the basis of a complaint irrespective of his faults if the Bill is passed. This strike is to create awareness. When patients come they will be come to know about this,” Dr Keshavan said.
Activists call hospitals’ bluff
Vinay Sreenivasa of the Alternative Law Forum lashed out at the private medical practitioners going on strike, saying that their strike is based on lies.
“They are not ready to discuss the issue with the government. The prices of healthcare are sky high and there is a need to regulate it. There is also a need for grievance redressal committees,” he said.
The Karnataka Janarogya Chaluvali (KJC), in a press statement, condemned the strike and stated that the profiteering on behalf of the private hospitals has made the KPMEA Amendment inevitable.
“In a vitiated environment where exploitation, profiteering, undertaking unnecessary diagnostics and treatment, writing irrational harmful prescriptions for cuts and commission has become the norm rather than an exception in private hospitals, the present KPMEA Amendment Bill has become inevitable,” the statement said.
The KJC stated that the strike was meant to thwart an attempt to bring in pro-people legislation.
“The private medical establishments lobby has continued its malicious campaign of misrepresenting and distorting several aspects of the Bill with malafide intention of subverting a progressive, pro-people legislation. They are demanding that the grievance redressal committee is not required stating that patients will file false complaints to harass private hospitals. This demand reeks of prejudice and is a disrespect to the gross violations that patients suffer,” the statement added.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said it was not right for doctors to protest prematurely.
“Doctors in all government hospitals have been asked to take care of their patients and medicines have been arranged. The Bill has not yet been tabled and discussed. It is not right for doctors to protest prematurely. There is no need for a protest. The Bill was referred to the joint select committee the committee has submitted its report. That’s all. The amended act has not yet been passed,” Siddaramaiah added.
Stating that he did not understand why the doctors were protesting, Health Minister Ramesh Kumar said that their opinions were considered before the Bill was sent to the committee.
“I do not know why they are protesting. No one spoke to us before protesting. Before we sent the Bill to the joint committee, they were consulted. We want action against medical institutions and we are not against doctors. Both issues are completely different. They have every right to protest. Let them,” Minister Ramesh Kumar added.