Resident doctors at government hospitals, including AIIMS and Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in Delhi, went on "indefinite" strike from 8 am to protest the National Medical Commission Bill, which is to be tabled in the Rajya Sabha today and will replace the existing Indian Medical Council Act of 1956. The strike will affect healthcare services across the country, including those at outpatient and emergency departments and in ICUs.
Among the problems raised by the medical fraternity is Section 45 of the bill, which allows the government to override any suggestion of the National Medical Commission, leading opposition parties to call the bill "undemocratic" and against the spirit of federalism.
"Resident doctors will refrain from working in 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 of the Federation of Resident Doctors' Association (FORDA), said, alleging the bill was "anti-poor, anti-student and undemocratic".
"The provisions of the 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," a joint meeting of FORDA and resident doctors from AIIMS said yesterday.
Resident doctors from AIIMS are also expected to take part in a demonstration today at parliament. The Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education & Research (PGIMER) in Chandigarh will stage a protest against what it also called a "draconian" bill. Medical students and doctors in Kerala have also joined the strike.
Hospital authorities have announced some measures to minimise the impact of the strike. These include running essential services, like those at ICUs, emergency departments and maternity operating theatres, with help from sponsored residents/pool officers and faculty from medical colleges.
The Indian Medical Association (IMA), which also expressed reservations over sections of the bill, called a 24-hour nationwide withdrawal of non-essential services on Wednesday.
The proposed legislation was passed by the Lok Sabha on Monday by voice vote, after the Congress, the Trinamool Congress and the DMK staged a walk-out to protest the rejection of suggestions.
The bill looks to replace the existing Indian Medical Council Act and reform the medical sector, in the wake of corruption allegations against the Medical Council of India. It also looks to regulate admission to medical colleges.
DMK leader A Raja called the bill "anti-poor, anti-social justice and undemocratic". Congress leader Manish Tewari said the bill was like "throwing the baby with the bathwater... the cure seems to be worse than the disease". The TMC's Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar said the bill was against the basic principle of federalism and jeopardised the future of students.
The health minister took to Twitter to defend the bill, describing it as "historic".
"On the basis of my long experience of medical and public life, I assure the countrymen that this historic bill will bring a major change in the field of health education. #NMCBill," the minister wrote in Hindi.
With inputs from ANI, PTI
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