Doctors threaten to go on indefinite strike against NMC Bill
New Delhi, July 31: Healthcare services at government hospitals, including AIIMS, Safdarjung and RML in Delhi, are likely to be severely hit as resident doctors have threatened to go on an indefinite strike, including withdrawal of services at emergency departments, to protest against the National Medical Commission (NMC) Bill.
The bill, which seeks to replace the graft-tainted Medical Council of India (MCI), is slated to be tabled in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday after the Lok Sabha gave its nod to it on July 29.
"Resident doctors will refrain from working in the OPDs, emergency departments and ICUs as a mark of protest on Thursday and the strike will continue for an indefinite period if the bill is tabled and passed in the Rajya Sabha," Dr Sumedh Sandanshiv, president, Federation of Resident Doctors' Association (FORDA), said while alleging that the bill was "anti-poor, anti-student and undemocratic".
The Resident Doctors' Associations (RDA) of the AIIMS, RML and some other hospitals have given separate notices to the administration regarding the proposed strike. Besides, agitations continued at various hospitals as doctors wore black badges to work as a mark of protest against the current version of the bill.
The Indian Medical Association (IMA), which has also expressed reservations over several sections of the bill and had given a call for a 24-hour withdrawal of non-essential services on Wednesday, said several health facilities across the country responded to it.
The largest body of doctors and medical students in the country with around three lakh members, the IMA had also called for demonstrations and hunger strikes at its local branches and had urged students to boycott classes. It has warned in a statement that it will intensify the agitation if the government continues to be "indifferent to our concerns". At a joint meeting of representatives of the FORDA, the URDA and the RDA-AIIMS held on Tuesday, it was resolved to oppose the NMC Bill, 2019 in its current form.
"It is to inform all the concerned that a gross breach of medical ethics and utter disregard for the noble profession in the form of the NMC Bill has been passed in the Lok Sabha and is also scheduled to be tabled in the Rajya Sabha.
"The provisions of the said bill are nothing short of draconian and promote gross incompetence and mockery of the professionals currently working day and night and sacrificing their youth for this broken system.
"If it is tabled in its current form in the Rajya Sabha without any amendments, the medical fraternity across the country will be forced to resort to extreme measures, which may hamper the healthcare services nationwide. We will withdraw from essential and non-essential services from the hospitals for an indefinite period," the AIIMS RDA, the FORDA and the Untied-RDA said in a joint statement.
The Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha on Monday even as thousands of doctors protested against it across the country. It provides for the setting up of a National Medical Commission in place of the MCI for the development and regulation of all aspects of medical education, profession and institutions. The medical fraternity is anguished that the Union health minister, a medical practitioner himself, instead of including key recommendations made by the Parliamentary Standing Committee, replaced many provisions in the bill with clauses "detrimental" to doctors. The fraternity claims that the bill will encourage quackery.
"The IMA had rejected the bill. Section 32 of the NMC Bill provides for licensing of 3.5 lakh unqualified non-medical persons to practise modern medicine. The term community health provider has been vaguely defined to allow anyone connected with modern medicine to get registered in the NMC and be licensed to practise modern medicine.
"This will only legalise quackery and endanger the lives of people," IMA secretary general R V Ashokan said. Doctors are demanding certain amendments in the bill. According to them, if not amended, the bill will lead to deterioration of medical education and degradation of healthcare services. Besides other clauses, they are objecting to section 45 of the bill, which, they claim, empowers the Union government to override any suggestion of the National Medical Commission.
"The autonomy and pride of the entire medical fraternity has been surrendered to the whims and fancies of politicians and bureaucrats even as the Union health minister is a doctor himself," AIIMS RDA president Amarinder Singh Malhi and president of its students' union Mukul Kumar had said in a joint statement.
"The government can also make any directions to the NMC and the autonomous boards constituted there-under regarding any policy matter to be followed religiously without any argument by the commission. This is a mockery of representative democracy," they had said.
The IMA is also opposing other provisions in the bill, including the decision to introduce the NEXT by scrapping the NEET-PG and regulation of fees by the NMC for 50 per cent seats in private medical colleges and deemed universities.
The bill proposes a common final-year MBBS examination, to be known as the National Exit Test (NEXT), for admission to post-graduate medical courses and for obtaining a licence to practise medicine. It would also act as a screening test for foreign medical graduates, official sources said.