The 17-day strike called by private medical practitioners in Rajasthan in response to the Rajasthan Medical Care (RMC) Act, 2022, which ended on April 4 after unaided private hospitals which have not received aid or facilitation by the government were exempted, was a national disgrace and exposed the ugly face of the medical profession. The pay-first practice of the healers’ profession in other states of the country is no different.
The Hippocrates Oath is taken by all medical practitioners when they graduate. The latest version approved by the World Medical Association in 2022 inter alia enjoins duly qualified medical practitioners to swear to “not allow his/her judgement to be influenced by personal profit or unfair discrimination; be dedicated to providing competent medical service, in full professional and moral independence, with compassion and respect for human dignity…”
Against this backdrop, the RMC Act which reminds the medical fraternity that under Article 21 of the Constitution, all citizens have a fundamental right to life and liberty which other citizens are obliged to respect, quite rightly made it obligatory for all hospitals, clinics and facilities to admit and attend to patients in any medical emergency without insisting on “pre-payment”, a widespread practice countrywide. This was an overdue provision, given that government hospitals and facilities are too few and spread out in the state (pop.82 million).
However, the Act aroused great resentment within the medical fraternity of the state who called a general strike of almost two weeks during which private doctors also shut their clinics, causing great harm to the public.
Finally, the strike was called off when the (Congress) government agreed to exempt private hospitals with capacity of less than 50 beds which had not been allotted any government concessions such as land at concessional price and hospitals running in public-private partnership mode, defeating the major purpose of the RMC Act. Indeed the Act should have gone further and punished individual doctors who refuse to treat patients during life threatening emergencies without pre-payment.
In this connection, it’s curious that while government and the courts are adamantly against “commercialisation of education,” they have turned a blind eye to rampant commercialisation of healthcare. It’s an irony that a large number of practising doctors who heartlessly demand pre-payment or else, have received highly subsidised education in the country’s 273 government medical colleges. Even in private medical colleges, a substantial percentage of students pay government-controlled tuition fees subsidised by taxpayers.
Under s.12 (1) (c) of the Right to Education Act, 2009, private schools are obliged to admit poor children in their neighbourhood free-of-charge into class I and retain them until class VIII. The cost of educating them is to be recovered from the State according to a prescribed formula. A similar obligation should be imposed upon all medical practitioners. The right to life itself should be placed on a higher pedestal than the right to education.