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Devendra Fadnavis' warning to agitating doctors is unwarranted; security is a basic right

If there is one thing that most Mumbaikars should really be proud of, it is their public heath care system. Mumbai's major public hospitals run by the Government and the charities have some of India's finest doctors, who are placed directly at the disposal of the public at subsidised prices. In a 2014 report released by the Praja Foundation, Mumbai had the best public healthcare system in the country. According to a report in IndiaSpend the city had 403 hospitals, with Chennai trailing far behind at the second position with 106 hospitals.

However, despite this, the fact is remains that even India's "best public healthcare system" is in dire need of improvement. It's woefully underfunded, understaffed and under resourced. The 2015 report released by the Praja Foundation shows that there is a 60% shortage of medical staff (Page 18) just at the State Hospitals in the City with an average shortage of 28% across the board. This for a public health system that caters to a population that is now bordering on 21 Million (210 Lakh) people.

 Devendra Fadnavis warning to agitating doctors is unwarranted; security is a basic right

Resident doctors protest at the Azad Maidan on Tuesday. PTI

But even then, somehow, despite these chronic shortages, the public health system in Mumbai ticks on. It manages to do so because it is staffed by resident doctors who literally work round the clock at it's public hospitals. These doctors form the backbone of the city's public health infrastructure.

So last Sunday, when fifteen relatives of a patient attacked a junior doctor at LT Hospital Sion Mumbai after the patient died of kidney failure, it should have shocked more people than just the medical community. Our city's doctors work shifts of more than 18 hours a day — and sometimes that extends on to 36 hour at a stretch — to keep the hospitals functioning. Today they are being forced to strike, not to demand things like better working conditions and infrastructure, but to merely seek basic security to do their job.

To work as a doctor in a public hospital is a choice that should be celebrated. It is a service to the community and those who perform it deserve to have the right to basic safety. The Government's response to this strike seems to be rather highhanded, from serving expulsion notices to threatening pay cuts to the striking doctors.

The government notice has, however, been kept in abeyance on Thursday after the Bombay High Court order directed the government to resolve the matter amicably, while requesting the doctors to resume work . But the Government's response of issuing those expulsion notices itself is wrong.

It's sad that instead of actually assuring that the healthcare system would be fixed, the government would go after the striking doctors. It is evidence of a sense of misplaced priorities. The demands of a safe working environment are not unreasonable. Add to this the fact that this was not the first time an incident like this has happened — the doctors have good reasons to be wary of what the government says. But instead, the government comes out and demonises the doctors for apparently "neglecting their duties", which remain sacrosanct; after all it's easy to make them the targets. The argument goes that doctors should work in all conditions as they have a sacred duty to heal their patients.

However, this argument does beg an answer to a fundamental question.

Is being subject to violence from angry relatives of the patient/members of the public now an essential condition to practice medicine in India, which is why the strike is deemed immoral by our government?

Being subject to violence in the event of failure to deliver an expected outcome shouldn't be an essential condition to practice medicine in India and the Government should be able to guarantee that. The Government should have immediately stood by it's doctors,  who literally work round the clock to keep this city healthy. They deserve better. It's a matter of shame the city hasn't stood by them through this.

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Updated Date: Mar 24, 2017 15:14:27 IST