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How many hours do Indian doctors really work?

Shortage of doctors. Copyright: niyazz / 123RF Stock PhotoDoctors reacted with anger after a government minister suggested they only work forty hours a week.

India’s shortage of doctors often makes their job harder, outraged medicos suggested as they claim to work often double that figure. One doctor at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) stated that doctors sometimes work between 100 and 120 hours every week.

“Choubey told Lok Sabha mPs that working hours for doctors…typically don’t exceed forty hours weekly”

The outcry came in response to remarks made by Ashwini Choubey, Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare. Choubey told Lok Sabha MPs that working hours for doctors at three government-run hospitals in Delhi and associated institutes typically don’t exceed forty hours weekly.

Choubey did state that “duty timings” vary. He noted that those working in “Emergency, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Medicine and Surgery departments have long work timings compared to the other departments.” However, he also said that “adequate residents/doctors are available in these Central government hospitals to provide optimum patient care.

“Whenever there is an increase in the workload, necessitating an increase in the number of doctors, new posts are created to ensure that the required manpower is available to deliver the desired level of clinical care and to ensure that there is no medical negligence.”

“India has less than one doctor for every 11,000 people”

Doctors contradicted Choubey’s claims, stating they are often overburdened because of staffing shortages. This claim is borne out by statistics. India has less than one government doctor for every 11,000 people. Shortages are especially felt in specialist positions. Perhaps most notably, India has a dearth of cardiologists. This is despite heart disease being the country’s leading cause of death.

The impact of such understaffing is that doctors have to work long hours. In many cases, this is resulting in a phenomenon known as physician burnout. Burnout can result in doctors feeling fatigue and depression. In some instances, fatigue due to overwork can result in doctors underperforming. This poses a risk to the health and wellbeing of patients.

“Our job is like a policeman’s — there are no fixed hours,” one doctor was quoted as saying in The Economic Times. “We are always ready to do extra work during an emergency. But this has become a norm and even the patients face problems because of this.”

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