Healthcare services in Maharashtra have been severely crippled because of the ongoing doctors' strike in the state. More than 4,000 resident doctors in the state's government hospitals are protesting incidents of attack on their colleagues.
For Dr Rohan Mhamunkar, one of the attacked, the day of the incident was just like any other. Some 15 to 20 people had arrived with a patient in serious condition. The patient was brought in with multiple injuries and was promptly advised to undergo a CT scan. But before the procedure could take place, the patient had to be stabilised.
The relatives of the patient started to grow restless, which ultimately resulted in a spat between Mhamunkar and the relatives. Things escalated and took an ugly turn, when Mhamunkar was beaten up badly with rods by the relatives. He sustained serious head injuries, resulting in blurry vision.
"We were outside Dhule when we came to know about the incident. The authorities and doctors informed us and we rushed to the spot. The police had arrested nine of the culprits by then and had filed a case against them," Dr Vijaya Mali, president of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), Dhule chapter, said.
"We requested the police to file the case according to the Maharashtra medical service persons and medicare service institutions (prevention of violence and damage or loss to property) act. After our request, they filed the case as per this law," Mali added.
"But this doesn’t happen in every case," said Dr Mohan Joshi, president IMA, Pune chapter. "When a doctor was beaten up two years ago, we tried to tell the police to file a case under this law but they denied, saying this law does not exist."
The Dhule incident is one of the 45 cases registered since the inception of the law in 2010. But none of the cases have reached sentencing yet. Demanding strict action, resident doctors across the state have now gone on strike by taking mass leaves.
According to the law, the offenders are liable to pay compensation and a fine of approximate Rs 50,000. The offence is also cognisable and non-bailable. "But in many cases, the offenders get bail immediately," said Dr Rajesh Katreve, a resident doctor, who is part of the group leading the strike.
"Every time a strike is called, the ministers conduct meetings... they promise action. But, these promises are never fulfilled," said one of the doctors on strike, who works at Sasson Hospital Pune.
"We met the health minister but they (ministers) are not even ready to issue a statement. They said we will increase security but how is that going to help?" asked Dr Ashok Tambe, state president of IMA.
There have been seven to eight similar attacks in past three months alone. Right after the Dhule incident, doctors were attacked in Mumbai Nashik and Aurangabad as well.
According to a survey conducted by IMA, maximum attacks occur when doctors are providing emergency services. This is exactly what Dr Abhijeet Jawanjane, a resident doctor at Sasson Hospital Pune, experienced.
"It was 10:30 at night. I was on duty when one of the relatives of the patients arrived to inquire about his condition. He was clearly drunk. The patient was hospitalised in critical condition a day prior to the incident. When this relative started arguing with me, I started explaining the condition to the patient's wife instead. The relative went out and came back with 4 to 5 people and they started beating me," Jawanjane said.
"The security guards just stood there watching. They did not try to intervene. This is clearly seen in the CCTV footage available. It has been a year now and I don't even know if a chargesheet was filed," he added.
Like Jawanjane, many other doctors have been seeking justice for years now, but none of the 45 cases have reached their conclusion.
"Doctors work under tremendous pressure. They should feel safe while treating a critical case and should have mental stability. But these incidents have turned the situation the other way round," said Joshi said.
"You would understand the situation if you spend just 24 hours with a resident doctor and see what conditions they work in," Mali added.
Security lapses are one of the major reasons behind such incidents. Maharashtra MLA Girish Mahajan agrees that security needs to be amped up.
"We are conducting a security audit. We have found that in 12 government medical colleges and hospitals there are only 250 security personnel appointed. We are planning to appoint retired police officers as security personnel in hospitals and increase the security. I have appointed former DGP Praveen Dikshit to look into this," Mahajan said, in an interview to a local TV channel.
But the doctors feel that increasing the security alone will not solve the problem. They are demanding that the law be revised so that stringent action will be taken against the perpetrators. They also want to limit the number of relatives allowed in with the patient to two.
But, above all, they want Mhamunkar's case to reach a conclusion. The doctors feel that if someone gets punished, it will send out a strong message.
Updated Date: Mar 22, 2017 13:05 PM