AIIMS doctors' indefinite strike affecting healthcare services needs wider discussion
Doctors are under attack, but can solutions come from making patients suffer?
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Services at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), among India's premier hospitals, have been hit since Friday evening, April 27, as resident doctors have announced an indefinite strike over a senior doctor slapping a junior on April 24. The senior doctor has since apologised but the strike is nevertheless going on.
Incidents in which doctors are beaten up by patients' family members have become common. If, as the AIIMS incident shows, resident doctors, who are also students, have to put up with the high-handedness of their seniors too, it is indeed alarming. But does it merit a ceasework, putting the lives of people at risk?
In solidarity with their colleague, who was slapped, doctors had worked wearing helmets on April 26. But on Friday, the Resident Doctors’ Association announced an indefinite strike. All surgeries scheduled for the day were cancelled. Despite the authorities taking contingent measures, OPD services, which cater to over 10,000 patients every day, were curtailed, according to reports. Only emergency and ICU services remained operational. Academic activities, too, were held up.
A good cause for ceasework?
On various occasions in the past, the associations of doctors and nurses of AIIMS have called strikes. Questions are raised on their validity, since healthcare in India falls under The Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA), which restricts employees providing "essentail services" from going on strikes.
In 2015, when doctors of 20 government hospitals of Delhi went on a strike, the Delhi government had to invoke ESMA to force them back to work. At that time, their demands included safety, regular working hours and better infrastructure at all government hospitals.
In 2017, too, AIIMS doctors observed a hunger strike demanding the implementation of Seventh Pay Commission recommendations. While these causes managed to dodge questions related to medical ethics, this strike over an internal issue is being criticised as unnecessary.
AIIMS strike unacceptable and a clear misuse of union power. Individual incidents does not mean putting hundreds of patients suffer. A sad day indeed.— K Sujatha Rao (@sujakrao) 27 April 2018
It’s about self-respect: Doctors
According to the association, the issue is not about a senior doctor assaulting a junior doctor. The larger issue is the fact that doctors are being attacked.
“Dear Director sir, we talk about violence against doctors by relatives of patients, but this act has caused great anguish among residents and shattered the sacred student-teacher relationship," read the letter submitted by the association to AIIMS director.
Doctors are not here to be beaten, the letter said. Also, Dr Atul Kumar, the senior doctor, is a repeat offender, the association alleged. It said that Dr Kumar created an atmosphere of fear in the department and he should not be allowed to mentor thesis work, as he has openly threatened to "fail" students. A five-member team has been set up to probe the allegations.
According to a 2017 study, conducted by the Indian Medical Association, 82.7 per cent doctors feel stressed out in their profession. Fear of violence is the top cause, followed by fear of being sued.
While ceasework can’t be the solution, doctors, too, should not be at the receiving end perennially. The debate on doctors being attacked and on the ethics of strikes should focus on finding solutions too.