The protest took place on Friday, November 3. An estimated 50,000 doctors across the state of Karnataka left duties in defiance of what they perceive as a penalisation of private doctors.
“Doctors from across Karnataka will abstain from their duties on Friday against the amendments proposed to Karnataka Private Medical Establishments (KPME) Bill 2017,” said Dr HN Ravindra, president of the Karnataka chapter of the Indian Medical Association.
The KPME 2017 Bill is an amendment to the original bill that passed in 2007. It has been modelled on the West Bengal Clinical Establishments (Registration, Regulation and Transparency) Act, 2017. It involves prescribing fixed prices for many common medical treatments. Any doctor found to be charging an excess of this prescribed rate can be held liable and punished appropriately.
With this in mind it is clear why the doctors see the amendment as an attack on their profits, and as such, a threat to their careers. The number of doctors turning out to protest is testament to the level of opposition the bill faces.
The bill also notes that should a surgery go wrong, the doctor could be held liable, with a potential prison sentence attached. Doctors have raised this clause as unreasonable and creating an atmosphere of fear among doctors.
“When I operate with good intention and if something untoward happens, the (new Act) threatens me with penalty and jail terms of up to three years,” said Dr H.N.Ravindra, President of the Karnataka chapter of the Indian Medical Association. The bill could dissuade doctors from taking on risky cases for fear of the criminal implications of failure. This could leave many individuals with serious health conditions without a doctor willing to help them.
Punishments for breaching the prescribed price limits are also severe. They range from six month to three-year jail terms as well as fines of between Rs 25,000 and Rs 5 lakh. The threat of time in prison for overcharging for a medical procedure has had a large amount of criticism amongst the medical community. Many have suggested that if the bill is to be implemented, it requires watering down.
The bill comes at a time when procedures in private hospitals continue to get more expensive. Patients from poor economic backgrounds, who often have to turn to the private sector may pay large sums out of pocket due to the unavailability of government run health facilities in their area.