The Public-Doctor-Public is a beautiful relationship that used to be. It is a mutually symbiotic relation we have not imagined but seen in reality. We see glimpses of it when we turn back time but fail to imagine even a cordial relation with the healthcare provider as of today.
“Agnishwar”, a Bengali movie by director Arabinda Mukhopadhyay, was a 1975 drama film about the life and perspective of a doctor with ideals. The story was inspired by the Bengali novel “Agni” by Balai Chand Mukhopadhyay where a doctor lends moral backbone to the broken society of Bengal.
West Bengal today is witnessing a conflict between the doctors and public in the context of safety of doctors at work versus healthcare services’ safety for the public.
The inability to provide security to the doctors at work and the falling healthcare system in this State is the cause of sheer negligence of the system- the government in case of public hospitals & the business houses who own the private sector healthcare services system.
The public has been reacting in the last decade very strongly resulting in frequent violent physical altercations between the public and doctors which recently turned nasty wherein one junior intern doctor suffered severe head injuries in one of Kolkata’s leading government medical college and hospital.
This conflict was nothing but a reaction to the vicious chain whose pattern is as follows:
A source which is the government, has not been providing infrastructure & security for on-duty doctors which makes it extremely difficult to provide healthcare services to the public at par with the patent in knowledge of medicine and clinics that the doctors are trained with. This helpless situation of the professionals has been reflected in their service for which they have to face the wrath of the public which mostly turns into mob-hysteria, most of the times motivated & backed up with political support. This is because the public finds it convenient to react by attacking the direct provider and not the indirect providing source of which the indirect source takes advantage and, conveniently manages to turn volatile situations to violent ones so as to divert from the core issue. Basically, the public and the doctors are falling into the trap of fighting against each other whereas both should fight against the system, at least the smaller & sensible community in this case which are the doctors.
Therefore, it is essential that ‘The Revolt’ by the Doctors should at first not be a reactionary step but a calculated effort towards building a better system by fighting against the system & not against the public. If one thinks about it patiently, the situation illustrates itself like the story of two monkeys fighting over a mango tree while the chimpanzee walks away with the mango!
On a serious note, important issues that has built anger in the public and distanced the doctor from the patients which was not the scenario decades ago are to be taken into consideration to analyse the larger context of infrastructure and system.
Firstly, Foreign Trips: I will mention that not only the doctors who go for family trips sponsored by medicine companies but also doctors who go for medical company sponsored conference trips for academic purposes that, the commission from a company for prescribing their medicines is a small portion of the large profits that result from the selling of highly priced drugs/medicines which should be and MUST BE SOMETHING THAT DOCTORS SHOULD REVOLT AGAINST!! Moreover, such prices at the generic levels are extremely low compared to the market prices dominated by the monopolies.
Secondly, doctors are educated, trained professionals whose basic essence is empathy & selfless service of their knowledge and therefore it is expected that they, unlike the public shouldn’t react but revolt against the source and not the people they belong to and exist with.
Thirdly, this brings us to the point that we treat doctors as Gods which probably some have taken to their heads; for example patients are seen as inferior due to which many doctors resort to issues like ‘across-the-table-hierarchy’, non-consensual operative treatments in the O.T. and charging exorbitant fees etc.
Finally but unfortunately, it is true that there exists a community of doctors who despite being bound by the ‘Hippocratic Oath’ look towards making money and are not being ousted by the honest community of doctors thereby silently eating into the providing section like poison ivy helping to turn the entire system into a profit making business.
Masses are distinguished in classes… true to its core but disturbing is the fact that the support by the elite, the middle class and the ‘netizens’ on social media towards the doctors’ strike all over West Bengal today which is a strike without providing a parallel support system for the public is out of the elite class’ fear for their children’s future… A future that they have pushed them into, a dark abyss of money-making business out of the healthcare services sans empathy towards life in order to re-earn the huge capitation fees or fees of the private medical colleges.
The masses have always looked up to doctors. It is not a myth and deep inside they still do. The largest example is deep rooted in our society… beginning from the time higher secondary results are declared, every household and neighbours of H.S. Examinees bother them, their parents with wanting to know the results because the masses of our society look towards the high scorers as future doctors who will serve for the society and bring the myth of “Agnishwar” to life and reality through empathy, love, and selfless care! To save our ‘Agnishwars’, we must inculcate in the young minds the ideals of ‘Agni ’.
Sohini Saha is a Psychologist and pursuing her research in Applied Clinical Psychology, University of Calcutta.