Your country has been in a state of war for 2 years. And 1/3rd of the security forces are not being allowed to take their charge on the battleground! And the worst part you ask? There is no public outrage, celebrity opinion, or any significant media support to the grave issue yet.
Some of you might have come across the pictures, news, or videos of the incident on the 27th of December in the national capital where the Delhi police aggressively thrashed and took under custody a large number of doctors staging a peaceful protest demanding expedition of NEET PG counselling. While most of the public has not a clue of what the protest is about, here’s a step by step account of the doctor’s protest.
Who are Resident doctors?
When you visit an institutionalized hospital, the first doctor you come across is a resident. Resident doctors are the backbone of a hospital who attend, examine and monitor the patients, and perform almost all medical and surgical interventions, except for the procedures that need the highest expertise and once-a-day rounds, that are performed by the senior consultants. So from the doctors who investigate your case history in the OPD, the one who admits you, those who attend you in the wards, prescribe your treatment, monitor you throughout your stay, examine you round the clock, and then discharge you from wards, are all resident doctors.
Residents doctors are essentially the post-graduate students, pursuing their MD/MS or diploma courses from the hospital who perform their duties for a course of 3yrs under the supervision of consultants, thereby gaining clinical experience in their respective departments of specialization.
An MBBS graduate doctor becomes a PG resident after qualifying for the National Entrance-cum Eligibility Test (NEET-PG). Those who qualify for the exam are allotted their specialities and hospitals a/c to the merit, through a process of counselling. Each year, the 3rd yr residents graduate, and a new batch of 1st yr residents join duties, thereby maintaining a continuum of 3 batches of residents on active duty. This is where the chain has broken this time.
So what’s the issue all about?
After multiple postponements amidst the second wave of COVID-19, NEET PG was held in September 2021. Earlier this year, the reservation criteria for AIQ seats for OBC and EWS category was revised, to 27% and 10% respectively. The same was challenged in a case filed against the centre and the medical counselling committee, a verdict of which is still pending since October.
So the counselling stays on hold, as a result of which, around 42,000 doctors, who were supposed to join their duties long ago, have not even been allocated their institutes yet. This, in turn, has led to a huge crisis of workforce at the hospitals, let alone the loss of almost a complete academic year that can be a major setback to their careers.
And the existing residents? They’ve been working day and night beyond human boundaries. In our country, it’s very common for resident doctors to work 36-hour shifts in a stretch, often without an hour of rest or food. And due to the ongoing state of crisis, they’ve been working even more than that. An average resident doctor in this country, at present, has been working as much as 80-90 hrs a week, or even more without proper rest or food.!
So, what’s the situation in the hospitals?
In a country like India, where the doctor-patient ratio is already much below the required standard of health care, the absence of 40,000+ active doctors on duty is a huge catastrophe. The health care system which is already in tatters, as mercilessly exposed by the 2nd COVID wave, has been working with 60% of the workforce for more than 6 months. Critical patients have to wait in long queues because there are not enough doctors to attend to such large numbers of patients.
Talk of quality of patient care. If you are attended by a doctor who’s been working for more than 36 hrs, without food or rest, and has been doing the same for 1.5 years in a row, how do you expect them to make perfect decisions? When an exhausted body and an exhausted mind is compelled to go through even more exhaustion, it makes mistakes. And mistakes in healthcare are going to result in nothing but substandard diagnosis, investigations, and treatments, which ultimately, leads to poor patient care, and is a threat to the common man of India.
So, what’s this protest, and what do doctors demand?
After multiple hearings in the supreme court, the case is still pending. The courts have had midnight proceedings, have set up fast track divisions, and worked during vacations for a lot of other cases, but not the one which should have been a topmost priority looking at the predictions of the upcoming threat of 3rd wave of COVID. Imagine having another Covid-19 wave, and this time, with over 40,000 fewer doctors on duty!
The only thing that the doctors have been demanding is expeditions of the counselling process. Fast-tracking the proceedings so that more young doctors can join duties and the backbone of Indian healthcare stays strong. Having more doctors will not only give the exhausted residents time to breathe but will also directly make better the quality of patient care.
The doctors have been raising the demand for fast-tracking of the counselling process since November. Seeing no signs of hope from the court or the government, they were forced to take to the streets in December, organizing peaceful protests, trying to get support from the public and media so that their voices are heard. Sadly enough, they were constantly ignored by the public, but also by the mainstream media which was busy covering details about incidents much less important.
And the only thing they received for demanding a better healthcare workforce for the country, was brutality. On the 27th of December, the resident doctors who were peacefully protesting in the national capital were attacked, brutally beaten, and detained by the Delhi police.
Hundreds of doctors were thrashed and dragged into police custody in an attempt to curb the protests. The same doctors who were once showered with flower petals were brutally mishandled in the public eye.
The visuals of police brutality against doctors are not just disturbing, but also shameful. After the horrific incident, the Federation of Resident Doctors Association (FORDA) and Federation of All India Medical Association (FAIMA) announced a complete shutdown of healthcare institutions and withdrawal of all healthcare services.
Following this, resident doctors all over the country went on an indefinite strike demanding the immediate release of detained Doctors and announcement of counselling schedule for NEET-PG 2021.
As the doctors’ strike continues, the doctors who were called ‘COVID heroes’ have FIRs registered against them, labelling them ‘rioters’ this time.
The dark clouds of a third COVID wave are closing in, and the resident doctors are left with no option but to take to the streets, demanding a better workforce to ensure better healthcare for the people, along with a right to be heard with dignity. Amidst saddening ignorance by the general public, and multiple insults by those in authority, the doctors’ protest continues.