National health policy and medicos
The Centre seems to have been impressed by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s efforts at taming the predatory practices of the big corporate hospitals and make them observe some rules by enacting the West Bengal Clinical Establishment Act. The National Health Policy announced by Union Health Minister J.P. Nadda in the Lok Sabha proposes, among other things, free diagnosis and medicines at all public hospitals in the next eight years which Mamata has already introduced in the State. A uniform health policy for the entire country will be a welcome step as it will standardize treatment and fix related protocols for all hospitals. There should be punitive provisions in the proposed policy to take action against aberrant hospitals and their staff.
It is intriguing that in West Bengal a section of doctors are up in arms against Mamata’s Clinical Establishment Act. Dark hints are being thrown by some medicos that if the new law comes into force they may prefer to move to other States rather than abide by the law and continue their practice in their home State. What is noteworthy is that not a single private doctor has so far publicly condemned the unethical practices being followed by most corporate hospitals and their fleecing the patients in a way that amounts to cheating. The State unit of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) has fully supported the new Bill. It has said: “We support the new law wholeheartedly. This is absolutely necessary.”
But private practitioners who do not want any rules to control their practice are not happy. They have hinted that they may set up an organization parallel to the IMA to start a movement against the Clinical Establishment Act. Such a move only rouses more public antipathy towards the doctors. The consequences will not be happy either for the doctors or for the patients. Every doctor has to take the Hippocrates’ oath that, inter alia. States that “I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment but never with a view to injury and wrong-going.” But in actual practice, how many doctors conscientiously and religiously abide by this oath? As Mamata Banerjee has been saying time and time again, a medical man is not a ‘businessman’ in the ordinary sense of the term. He has to earn money for a living, but his main aim is to heal his patients, not to extract money from them.