Healthcare services at several government hospitals, including AIIMS and RML here, were disrupted on Thursday (August 1) as resident doctors went on a strike and withdrew all services including that at the emergency department to protest a key legislation that seeks to regulate the medical education sector.
Resident doctors have threatened to continue the strike for an indefinite period if the National Medical Commission (NMC) Bill is tabled and passed in Rajya Sabha on Thursday. Resident doctors will refrain from working in OPDs, emergency departments and ICUs as a mark of protest.
Amid widespread protests by the medical fraternity, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan in a tweet on Wednesday night said he would table the NMC bill for consideration and passage in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday. He also assured countrymen that the “historic” bill, if passed, would bring “mega changes in the medical education sector”. The bill, which seeks to replace the graft-tainted Medical Council of India (MCI), had got the nod of Lok Sabha on July 29.
Dr Sumedh Sandanshiv, president, Federation of Resident Doctors Association (FORDA), charged that the bill was “anti-poor, anti-student and undemocratic”. Resident Doctors Associations (RDA) of the AIIMS, RML and some other hospitals in the city had given notices to the respective administrations regarding the strike on Wednesday.
Several Delhi government hospitals too have joined the the stir on the call of FORDA. “OPD services are closed and no new cards will be made for any patients. Services are expected to be hit in emergency department too, but we will try to manage,” LNJP MS Dr Kishore Singh told PTI. LNJP is the largest facility under the Delhi government.
Resident doctors at AIIMS will hold a demonstration on Thursday and march towards Parliament in the afternoon. Following the strike notice, several hospital authorities have put in place contingency plans for the smooth functioning of healthcare services as a part of which emergency services will function with the help of sponsored residents/pool officers and faculty members.
“In addition, faculty members of other medical/surgical departments wherever applicable will also be deployed in the emergency. Further ICUs will also be managed with the help of sponsored residents/pool officers and faculty members. Inpatient (general and private) wards patient care services, labour room and maternity operation theatre (OT) and support services will function normally and will be supervised by the faculty of hospital administration concerned,” according to the contingency plan drawn by AIIMS.
While the out patient department (OPD), dialysis, radio-diagnosis and laboratory diagnosis services are scheduled to function on a restricted basis, routine operation theatre services will largely remain suspended on Friday, the authorities said. Emergency cases of operations will be taken up as per requirement while for routine OT services patients will be taken up for surgery as per feasibility and mutual agreement between concerned faculty of surgery and anaesthesiology.
The Indian Medical Association (IMA), which has also expressed reservations over several sections of the bill, had given a call for a 24-hour withdrawal of non-essential services on Wednesday across the country. It has warned in a statement that it will intensify the agitation if the government continues to be “indifferent to our concerns”.
At a joint meeting of representatives of the FORDA, the URDA and the RDA-AIIMS held on Tuesday, it was resolved to oppose the NMC Bill, 2019 in its current form. “It is to inform all concerned that a gross breach of medical ethics and utter disregard for the noble profession in the form of the NMC Bill has been passed in Lok Sabha and is also scheduled to be tabled in Rajya Sabha.” “The provisions of the said bill are nothing short of draconian and promote gross incompetence and mockery of professionals currently working day and night and sacrificing their youth for this broken system.”
“If it is tabled in its current form in Rajya Sabha without any amendments, the medical fraternity across the country will be forced to resort to extreme measures, which may hamper healthcare services nationwide. We will withdraw from essential and non-essential services from hospitals for an indefinite period,” the AIIMS RDA, the FORDA and the Untied-RDA said in a joint statement.
The bill was passed by Lok Sabha on Monday even as thousands of doctors protested against it across the country. It provides for setting up of a National Medical Commission in place of the MCI for development and regulation of all aspects of medical education, profession and institutions. The fraternity claims that the bill will encourage quackery.
Doctors are demanding certain amendments in the bill. According to them, if not amended, the bill will lead to deterioration of medical education and degradation of healthcare services. They are objecting to section 45 of the bill, which, they claim, empowers the Union government to override any suggestion of the National Medical Commission.
“The autonomy and pride of the entire medical fraternity has been surrendered to whims and fancies of politicians and bureaucrats even as the Union health minister is a doctor himself,” AIIMS RDA president Amarinder Singh Malhi and president of its students union Mukul Kumar had said in a joint statement.