Doctors will abstain from duties from 8am today till the same time on Saturday, according to the Karnataka chapter of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) Photo: Mint
Doctors will abstain from duties from 8am today till the same time on Saturday, according to the Karnataka chapter of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) Photo: Mint

Karnataka private hospitals close today as doctors protest against new medical bill

Around 50,000 doctors in private hospitals in Karnataka to 'abstain from duties' today to protest against the proposed provisions in the soon to be tabled Private Medical Establishments (amendment) bill

Bengaluru: Around 50,000 doctors from private hospitals, clinics and other medical establishments in Karnataka are expected to ‘abstain from duties’ on Friday to protest against the proposed provisions including levying fines, imprisonment of doctors and fixing charges for specific procedures among other clauses in the soon to be tabled Karnataka Private Medical Establishments (amendment) bill 2017— an amendment to the original Act in 2007.

Doctors will abstain from duties from 8am today till the same time on Saturday, according to the Karnataka chapter of the Indian Medical Association (IMA).

The tabling of the bill comes at a time when health care charges in private medical establishments continue to rise, especially for speciality treatments, making them unaffordable for people from the lower economic classes—reasons why the Siddaramaiah led Congress government in Karnataka has taken a keen interest in the bill, heading into elections next year.

Dr H.N.Ravindra, President of the Karnataka chapter of the IMA on Thursday said that doctors across the state were protesting against the provisions of the proposed bill which includes fines and imprisonment if a surgery goes wrong, fixing prices of specific medical procedures as well as creating a new grievance redressal cell in addition to existing forums including consumer courts and the medical council among others.

“When I operate with good intention and if something untoward happens, they (new Act) threatens me with penalty and jail terms of upto three years," Ravindra said.

“It creates a fear psychosis among doctors," he added.

According to Ravindra and IMA estimates, there around 40,000 private medical establishments in the state, all of whom are supporting the move, will abstain from duties for 24 hours.

Dr. Devi Prasad Shetty, well known cardiac surgeon and chairman and managing director of Narayana Hrudayalaya Ltd—a Bengaluru based multi speciality hospital—said that the fraternity has no problem with the government fixing prices for government sponsored schemes. “But fixing prices for other things and medical tourism upsets business plans of hospitals," he said.

India issued more than 1.78 lakh medical visas in 2016, including for follow up treatment, as against 1.22 lakh in 2015, a growth of 45% making the country one of the biggest medical tourism hubs across the globe due to low prices, according to the Union home ministry data presented in the Rajya Sabha in June.

Shetty said that the Siddaramaiah government’s decision to change a “good draft bill" prepared under the leadership of former chief justice of Karnataka Vikramajit Sen, “reflects the poor attitude of the government towards the profession."

Ravindra said that out patient departments (OPD) will not function but added that emergency wards in some private hospitals and medical colleges will remain open.

Karnataka health minister Ramesh Kumar and at least two senior officials of the health department did not respond to calls seeking comment.

Ramesh Kumar had tabled the amendment bill on 13 June and is expected to be discussed in the upcoming session of the state legislature.

The bill also proposed penalties of not less than Rs25,000 which may extend to Rs5 lakh and imprisonment of 6 months to three years for any violations.

The Siddaramaiah led Congress government has announced a flurry of populist schemes—mostly around food security— that includes Aarogya Bhagya or universal health coverage aimed at providing free medical assistance to 14 million households in the state.

The scheme was aimed at winning over socially and economically backward classes ahead of next years assembly elections.

Doctors who work on fixed salaries, surgery and consultation wise remuneration add that the bill could also dent their incomes.

“We (private medical establishments) have not taken any financial assistance from the government, no support also. Then how can they do this (apply the provisions of the proposed act)," Ravindra said.

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