We have heard of several incidents of relatives or friends of patients beating up doctors and frequent protests by doctors demanding better security measures. This leads to disruption of healthcare for patients, who the perpetrators sought to help, as well as growing resentment and mistrust between doctors and the public. Why is this occurring? Is it because doctors in India are incompetent, indifferent or corrupt? Or is it the result of the broken healthcare system in our country?
Across the world, violence against health personnel is quite common. In China and Thailand, nearly 75% faced verbal or physical abuse, with Asia seeing an uptrend. In the more developed nations like those of Europe, the percentage is lesser. India also has similar statistics, with an addition of gruesome incidents leading to mob violence and at time, loss of lives of doctors and staff.
India’s public healthcare system, especially in the poorer states, is in shambles. Severe shortage doctors, nurses and paramedics, combined with poor infrastructure leads to extremely overworked staff and poor quality of healthcare. However, the case is not so with senior and consultant doctors, many of whom indulge in absenteeism, private practice (which is prohibited) and show indifference in their work, while taking money from patients for treatments which are free or subsidised. Private healthcare is unaffordable for most people.
This creates an atmosphere of confusion, resentment and frustration among the patients and their relatives. It is often manifested as violence against junior and senior resident doctors, especially in ICUs and emergency care. Several states have adopted the Medical Protection Act, but its implementation is almost nil. The media has played its part in creating a bad public opinion against doctors, by highlighting only cases of malpractice and profiteering by private hospital managements.
Doctors render an important service to society, just like teachers, police, judges and so on. They have the right to safety at their workplace. Fixing the public healthcare system in India will address not only this, but a whole host of other issues.