While the politicisation of the Bengal junior doctors’ stir is regrettable, we must address their plight legally
Beyond the politics, there is a crucial issue that the protesting junior doctors of Bengal, who are standing up for a colleague beaten up by angry kin of a patient, represent. And that is the plight of frontline doctors at the receiving end of patient fury, even for oversights or laxities not of their own making. Sadly, they have wrongfully been assumed to be the face of every kind of systemic deficiency in the healthcare sector. And because junior doctors are considered to be of lesser experience, they become the soft targets of all kinds of barbs and fury, verbal to physical, and quite abnormally in the Kolkata case, one of them has ended up with a cracked skull. This is an emerging crisis in the healthcare sector with even the country’s top institution AIIMS reporting how one of three of its healthcare staff faces violence by the patient or his/her kin in case of death. According to Indian Medical Association (IMA) data, 75 per cent doctors across India have faced some form of violence at work. Some reports say that patient fury is becoming a dreaded concern even in hospitals in the West, US and UK to be precise, and China, too, where doctor-patient protocols are stricter and enforceable at all levels. Of course, nobody is asking us to overlook genuine cases of hospital negligence but time has indeed come to at least ensure the safety of frontline healthcare staff from blustering patients and relatives, who are in an emotionally stressed state, and in the absence of counselling cells in our systemic process and a lack of understanding of medical phenomena, tend to vent on attending doctors and nurses. Part of this fury also stems from the huge burden of expectation we pile on doctors as the next best saviours after God. And troubled by overcrowding, lack of infrastructure backup and inhumanly long working hours, the junior doctors themselves are stretched to limits while treating the sick and assuring their families. This merits serious consideration in healthcare laws and explains the solidarity among junior doctors across cities. One respite could be having a multi-tiered security structure, aided by digital devices, and the other could be a centralised law for protection of medical staff.
Having said that, the way the Bengal case was handled reeks of political opportunism at the cost of human lives. Yes, doctors in medical colleges have as much right to their political affiliations. But the BJP, which is the new Opposition in the State, having co-opted the Left, too, did not miss a chance to hit out at Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, considering she keeps the health portfolio to herself. Though the attackers have been booked, the BJP stoked the incensed doctors further, saying Mamata would not give them a hearing as the assaulter belonged to a certain community (Muslim) that made up a sizeable portion of her votebank. It even activated its student wing, the ABVP, to polarise a sensitive issue instead of taking up cudgels for doctors’ rights. Its aim was to make the Chief Minister look thoroughly unconcerned and inept as an administrator. Emboldened by its Lok Sabha tally in the State, the BJP is losing no opportunity to highlight Mamata’s incompetence in running the law and order machinery over one pretext or the other and building a case for Bengal as a failed State. Mamata has not made it any easier on herself either and is falling into every political trap set by the BJP. Rather than assuaging the anxieties of the doctors and giving them a patient hearing, she assumed a confrontationist stance instead, threatening them with dire consequences and accusing the BJP of imparting a communal colour to the crisis. Had she not talked down, stuck to the specifics of the case and activated her police force to show discernible correctives, this would not have escalated into a game of political oneupmanship. This time the Chief Minister is in a sticky spot as her own nephew, a medical student, and her mayor’s daughter have raised questions on her inaction and wondered why a crack team wasn’t sent to protect the doctors when they were being beaten up by an unruly mob and not just the patient’s family. Now the junior doctors are demanding an apology from Mamata and if she doesn’t want to be seen as eating humble pie, she has to make some palliative gestures. And finally an appeal to the aggrieved doctors. While it is true that they have been wronged in this case, by virtue of their Hippocratic oath, they should resume services for the thousands of critical cases that await their attention and care. Somewhere, medicine is still one of the noblest professions of society.
Saturday, 15 June 2019 | Pioneer
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