We are a tired bunch. In general, we don’t protest against much. Merciless shifts, back-breaking work, working conditions which leave much to be desired- the point is, doctors, most of the time, do not involve themselves in protests which zap scarcely found time and energy. So, when doctors from all across the country came together and carried out a strike for one cause- it really must have been a big deal. But did it bring in the results it was meant to?
One of the largest consolidated movements by doctors in the country, the strike followed the June 10th attack, when 2 junior doctors at Nil Ratan Sircar Medical College and hospital in Bengal were assaulted by a mob of more than a 100 people over the death of a 75-year-old man. The aim of the strike was primarily to combat political apathy toward the issue of violence toward healthcare professionals. The doctors simply wanted better security for doctors and also to ensure that perpetrators of such crimes are arrested under non-bailable sections. Besides, it was hoped that the movement would, to some extent, sensitize the masses to the scope of the problem doctors face in day-to-day practice. But ultimately, what did it end up doing? The general public was outraged that doctors were turning away patients. The political class vilified medical professionals and were quick to point out their shortcomings. The media too did not seem to want to take a look at the picture from inside the (apparent) safety of a white coat. Though the strike was ‘successful’ in ensuring its short-term demands were met, doctors ended up looking like the villains of their own story!
What did the striking doctors intend to do in the first place? Disrupt the system. Not the type created by irate relatives, of course, but the type more commonly heard in the corridors of the business world. Disruption refers to an interruption of a way of doing things, disturbing a set standard of behaviours. A strike in itself is a form of disruption. But disruption is meant to change the way the world around us works. Just as an example, take the giant disruption called Amazon. 20 years ago, the concept would have been ridiculous. Today, we can’t imagine a world without the convenience of online shopping. Did our strike change anything much? Not in particular.
We were granted security; the 5 main culprits of the Bengal attack put in jail. CCTV cameras were installed in some hospitals, panic buttons in others. Meanwhile, over the few days of the strike, thousands of patients who had travelled from far ends of the country for medical treatment were now left stranded in the no-mans-land between the hospital and the parliament. If the patients already did not trust us, they now had reasons to trust us even less.
So, if we are to battle this monster. what is the way forward? Going back to the grassroots of what the issue is. Language barriers, according to some prominent personalities. Poor counselling and poorer soft skills, according to experts. Lack of empathy and callousness, according to the general public. And poor resources, horrible living conditions and an abnormally high patient load, according to the doctors.
Like all complex problems, there are too many facets to the issue to be dealt with one strike, one protest, one meeting. What we need is a representation. While we are constantly withstanding myriad forces trying to infiltrate councils which deal with healthcare in the country, we need to be able to infiltrate the system which holds us as puppets in their hands. The new NMC bill which proposes to set up state-wise medical councils of 25 members each, all of whom will be ‘nominated’ by the central government, out of whom only 3 people would ‘have experience in the medical field’. With such poor representation in a controlling and law-making body, how can we ever hope to get our predicaments sorted? Once we have our voices, of people who have faced the violence we face, struggled with the lack of resources or have persevered in the face of an innumerable onslaught of cases in public hospitals, within the political system, is the only chance we have at changing the system. From the inside is how we create the disruption we so seek to bring about. May we be successful!
Final Year, G.G.M.C, Mumbai