13 days on, no respite from Rajasthan doctors' strike over Right to Health Bill

Medical services lie crippled across Rajasthan with patients travelling to neighbouring states to get treated

13 days on, no respite from Rajasthan doctors' strike over Right to Health Bill

Archana Sharma/IANS

It's the 13th day in Rajasthan since the doctors along with medical staff went on a strike across the state against the Right to Health Bill passed by the Assembly recently.

Medical services lie crippled across Rajasthan with patients travelling to neighbouring states to get treated.

Meenu (42) from Jaipur had to rush to Delhi as her daughter (13) who was operated upon recently had to get her stitches opened. "My daughter is in pain. She had a cyst and was operated upon. We never knew that this kind of strike will come. Now we are rushing to Delhi in a cab to get her stitches opened as she is in acute pain," said Meenu.

Another professional Ankit also left for Ahmedabad after his sister met with an accident. Due to lack of medical help, he took her to Ahmedabad.

A four-month-old boy Rubin died awaiting medical aid in Sikar. He was referred to Jaipur' JK Lon as medical staff in all hospitals were on strike in Sikar. However, he passed away at the entrance of the hospital.

Another three-year-old boy in Jalore took his last breath as the doctors were on strike.

Besides these cases, there are thousands of patients who have left the state or are planning to go to nearby states to get medical aid while a few have already succumbed.

Senior doctor Virendra Singh from Rajasthan Hospital told IANS that we wish the strike ends on this 13th day (Iska teranwa ho jaye aur yeh khatam ho).

"We are feeling bad after being in touch with our regular patients who want medical treatment but we have to refuse them. We are helpless."

"Doctors are scared of this Bill for there is a punishment clause. If we get one notice we will have sleepless nights. There is a provision that anyone can complain against them and the complaint will go to a grievance committee and we will be fined. Now doctors are scared that what if a patient goes for litigation," he said.

When asked if this is an ego issue, he said, "There is no question of it but there is fear amongst the doctors."

Now with this strike there is a money challenge also coming for doctors, he said.

"Economic loss is quite big. Fixed expenses are many, but there is no money coming in. This is a time to think about restructuring salary packages," said the doctor adding that this will further trigger a financial crisis.

Virendra Singh had a meeting with Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot on Thursday along with a doctors' delegation after which Gehlot asked the doctors to talk with Pradesh Congress Chief Govind Singh Dotasra. However, Dotasra suggested the setting up of a committee to hear the doctors' suggestions.

The PCC chief said there is no chance of a rollback of the Bill; however the state government can facilitate talks.

Meanwhile, the Rajasthan High Court on Friday issued a notice to the state government, the agitating doctors association and the Rajasthan Medical Council on the ongoing strike.

Hearing a PIL filed by Pramod Singh, a division bench of acting Chief Justice MM Shrivastav and Justice Anil Unman asked the government to furnish minutes of the talks held with the doctors to break the deadlock in the next hearing slated for April 11.

The petition urged the court to direct cancellation of the licence/registration of the doctors on strike and also the recognition of private diagnostic centres which are supporting the strike.

The petition said that there is a healthcare crisis in Rajasthan due to the strike by the doctors which is leading to the deaths of some patients.

Rajasthan is the first state in the country to come up with legislation like the Right To Health Bill under which neither government hospitals nor private hospitals can refuse any person emergency treatment.

The Bill seeks emergency treatment which includes accident care, snake bite and child birth services for which patients can avail health services at the nearest healthcare service provider. The government will reimburse these expenses to the healthcare providers, said the petitioner.

However, the protesters (doctors) claimed that the Bill does not help patients much, but penalises the doctors and hospitals. The most contentious section of the Bill mandates that all hospitals -- both public and private -- must offer emergency treatment without any prepayment.

IMA national president Dr Sharad Kumar Agarwal said that health is the right of every citizen, however providing healthcare to the citizens is the responsibility of the state government. As they are incapable of doing it, they are putting the onus on the doctors.

The Act does mention that the government will reimburse the hospitals, but the protesters say there is no clarity on how or when these funds will come.

Dr Amit Yadav, former president of the Jaipur Association of Resident Doctors, said: "There are several problems associated with the Bill. One, when they say hospitals have to provide emergency service, they have not defined what an emergency is."

Meanwhile, the government said that more clarifications will be provided when the rules for the Bill are framed.

However, poor patients seem to be suffering the most amid this doctor-state government standoff as they neither have the resources to travel to adjoining states nor can they leave their daily jobs.

Meanwhile there are a few doctors who are allowing backdoor entry to patients at enormous prices. Even a minute diagnostic test is being charged at five times the market price.

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