NEET-PG Counselling: Shortage of junior doctors crippling hospitals

Although Resident Doctors in Delhi called off agitation for expediting counselling after 15 days on Dec 31, a resident doctor explains what is at stake on the next hearing in SC on January 6

Protesting Resident doctors demand expediting NEET-PG counselling and withdrawal of FIRs against agitating doctors
Protesting Resident doctors demand expediting NEET-PG counselling and withdrawal of FIRs against agitating doctors

Dr. Sharon Fredrick Lasrado

An exam scheduled for January eventually took place in September. Postgraduate admissions that should have ideally been over by April are yet to begin on December 29.

The entrance exam is tough and requires MBBS doctors to take a break for one, two or three years to prepare. It is stressful and financially taxing, crippling for some.

The delay, caused partly due to Covid but primarily due to the incompetence of the government in drafting laws and its reluctance to take all stakeholders into confidence, has put many aspirants between a rock and a hard place. Many come from poor and middle income families and having to go so long without a stipend have broken many backs.

Postgraduate medical doctors work as ‘Junior Residents’ (JRs) who are the first-line responders in casualties, hospital wards and operation theatres. The consultant doctors and senior professors work to oversee the care provided, but the initial treatment is given by these ‘JRs’ and MBBS House Surgeons.

In an already overloaded health system, on the best of days, with all of the Residents present, there is a shortage of hands. Currently, since July 2021, there are only two batches of Junior Residents present, leaving a massive 33% shortage in the public healthcare system.

But the government has made no attempt to expedite the counselling. It is widely believed that the government fears that a stay/scrapping of the New Reservation Policy would affect the ruling party’s chances in the upcoming state elections, and therefore is dragging its feet.

NEET-PG Counselling: Shortage of junior doctors crippling hospitals

The Supreme Court had pointed out flaws in the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) criteria as early as on October 7. But the government agreed to revisit the criteria only on November 25.

Resident Doctors Associations across the country have been holding OPD boycotts, protest marches, dharnas etc since November. FORDA (Federation of Resident Doctors Associations) representing Delhi hospitals like Safdarjung, RML etc this week planned a march to the Supreme Court but were stopped by Delhi Police. Women doctors were manhandled on the streets and cases were instituted against protestors.

It should have been a priority for the government to seek an urgent hearing and get the stay on counselling lifted. But nobody emerges as a victor if the government continues to dither.

Till 2020, 50% of the total seats were being filled through ‘All-India Open Counselling’ conducted by Union health ministry (MoHFW) and the remainder 50% of seats by respective states through state-level counselling. The All-India Open Counselling had the following Reservation Scheme– 15% for Scheduled Caste candidates, 7.5% for Scheduled Tribes and 5% Horizontal Reservation for Persons with Disabilities.

The DMK filed a petition in the Madras High Court, seeking application of 27% Reservation for Other Backward Caste (OBC) candidates in Postgraduate Medical Courses. But before the final verdict could be pronounced in this case, the central government issued a notification announcing 27% OBC Reservation, and 10% Reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS).

The circular was challenged in the Supreme Court and petitioners prayed for an immediate stay of the New Reservation Policy for this academic year, and for a subsequent review.

During the hearings, the three-judge bench questioned the rationale behind setting Rs. 8 lakhs as the income limit for EWS quota eligibility, as no socio-economic survey/study preceded the 103rd Constitutional Amendment. Seeing that it had put forward a weak case, lawyers representing the Government started demanding time for responding.

During the last hearing on November 25, the government asked time to set up a committee to relook into EWS eligibility criteria, which the court granted. The next hearing is scheduled on 6th January 2022.

(The writer is an MBBS Doctor from Bangalore who has recently cleared NEET-PG 2021 and is awaiting admission)

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday.)

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