Despite being part of a civil society, these past few years in India have witnessed growing instances of assault on doctors. Many newspaper columns have been devoted to the issue. Many of these pieces that jumped the gun on the reasons for the problem, lacked the courage to underline the real reasons for an ailing healthcare system, which is already in ICU with policymakers waiting for a peaceful death of the system rather than make an effort to fix it.
Recently a doctor in Maharashtra's Dhule lost his eye after being assaulted by the relatives of a patient. Many such instances have also been reported from the national capital itself forcing doctors to go on strikes several times.
It is ironic that attacks on doctors have become common in a country where the profession was once deeply revered. Indians have always held the task of healing in great esteem.
A civilised society aiming to become a superpower and a model democracy must condemn such mishaps unequivocally, irrespective of which profession is under attack. We cannot afford to forget that everyone has the fundamental right to live his life without fear for safety.
As a child growing up in the 1980s, I remember how I took pride in telling everyone that I wanted to be a doctor when I grow up. It was a matter of great prestige for me to have actually realised my dream of entering the field of medicine.
Being part of this great country, we have grown up acquired great socio-cultural values that motive us to respect selfless professions such as teaching, Army and medicine. There is no doubt that our society accords a special place to them.
However, it is sad that as a society we our forgetting these values and we as citizens are accountable for this. Shifting blame and taking names without systemic overhaul will only worsen the situation and ultimately lead to the demise of the healthy socio-cultural architecture of this ancient country.
Doctors go to the hospital to treat patients and patients visit hospitals to be treated. Nobody goes there to create issues. Instances of assault that happen are thus situational rather than intentionally pre-planned.
Assault on doctors by angry patients and their kin is only a reflection of the issues troubling the healthcare system.
There is a growing anger seen among people every time incidents such as children dying due to lack of oxygen in BRD Medical College in or overbilling by MAX and Fortis hospital are reported. As a human being, I find such reports deeply disturbing. For easy clicks, and quick TRPs, the media reported these cases without much care for details. Everyone failed to see that solving such as issues would require the coordinated efforts from all stakeholders.
However, it is important to note that policymakers have started to think that in terms of "wealth from health" rather than "health is wealth".
We must accept that corruption has found its way in the health sector too. However, I will be unfair in not adding that majority of the doctors remain committed to the ethics of the profession.
The problem is that a handful of corrupt doctors have captured the attention of the policymakers and are operating like an organised nexus.
On the flip side, young Indian doctors are making the country proud through their work in developed countries such as Canada, the US and many European countries.
These doctors are working in a better medical ecosystem with formidable checks and balances, and great team ethos unlike doctors in India, who are forced to continuously fight unheeding authorities both for the rights of unaware citizens and overworking doctors. It is therefore not surprising that young doctors are migrating from India.
Personally, I have stopped encouraging young people to become doctors. My advice to them is, "Spend your precious time with you family and friends instead of compromising your valuable youth in this sleepless, thankless and worthless toil. You must pursue creative endeavours that benefit the nation."
We hardly hear of assault on doctors in Army hospitals, however, numerous government and private hospitals report such cases.
To run an accountable health care system, we need to focus on four important aspects:
1) Adequate services provided by the government
2) Appropriate management by the administrators
3) Professionalism of clinicians
4) A civilised and value-adhering society
Government hospitals lack in all four aspects.
We choose incompetent politicians who formulate to formulate extant paralysed policies. They use our health as a tool to fulfil their vested interests and we don't even ask why?
The naked truth is that these political profiteers have sold our healthcare system to private sector players with the help an organised nexus of influential doctors and prominent figures.
Post liberalisation, the healthcare sector became a money-minting machine for private players. The only thing that prevented healthcare from being completely privatised is the widespread poverty in India.
Only 1.3 per cent of the GDP is directed towards healthcare. As per the Universal Health Coverage NHP (National Health Policy) 2017, four per cent of GDP should be allocated for health. This data doesn't reflect that health is a priority for the country.
But as citizens, do we deserve any better? Are we asking the right questions to the government? When people stood in long queues outside, the entire media blamed the government, but the same media chooses to look the other way when it comes to serpentine queues outside hospitals.
Leaders in states write letter of recommendations for people from their region to get treatment in Delhi, but will not answer why such facilities are available only in Delhi.
As per recent data, there is only one government allopathic doctor for every 10,189 people, one government hospital bed for every 2,046 people and one state-run hospital for every 90,343 people. We must ask why.
India has only 10 lakh doctors working in government and private sectors. According to World Health Organisation, the doctor to patient ratio should be 1:1000. Which means India needs another five lakh doctors to bridge the gap.
Recently the NMC Bill was tabled in Parliament and sent to the parliamentary standing committee. The panel has advocated "bridge courses" for indigenous and alternative medicine practitioners such as Ayurveda, and Homeopathy. Allowing allopathic practice to other branches may be a new idea but it can be dangerous in the long term as Allopathy is a highly evolved and modern science standing on evidence-based medicine.
If bridge courses could have been a real solution then why not have bridge courses for khap panchayats to fix the shortage of judges in the country.