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Private practice ban in Jammu and Kashmir?

Indian Doctor standing with stethoscope on India flag background. National healthcare system concept, medical theme.

Doctors in the employ of government hospitals could face a ban on private practice in Jammu and Kashmir in a bid to strengthen health infrastructure in the union territory. 

Reports suggest that government doctors in Jammu and Kashmir opt to treat their patients in privately run facilities and are absent from their posts in government hospitals in favour of their private practice. Such criticisms led a senior health official to inform The Tribune that “we are examining the proposal to ban the private practice by doctors working in the government sector because it is high time to provide impetus to the private sector.” 

The proposal has been met with some negative reactions by the medical fraternity in Jammu and Kashmir. “The ban on the practice by doctors at this moment will make healthcare expensive for common people,” commented one doctor in the Tribune report who suggested the banning co-practice will simply drive medicos out of government jobs and into the arms of the private sector. For example, he said “after the ban, most of them will quit the government job and charge not less than Rs 50,000 in private” referring to gynaecologists who currently perform surgeries for Rs 15,000 in private facilities. Others said that the pay of publicly-employed doctors in Jammu and Kashmir should be hiked in order to retain them. 

Such a decision has been mulled over by the Jammu and Kashmir government before. Last year, a Health and Medical Education Department official informed Rising Kashmir that “we are seriously considering banning private practices of doctors…we have to do it now.” He said that “we don’t want anyone – doctors or patients – to suffer. It will be a decision taken after a consensus that will take care of all aspects of the healthcare system.” He added that “our focus is the common people who are suffering just because some doctors are not available in the hospitals.” 

The prospective ban was endorsed at the time by Doctors Association Kashmir (DAK). “We will welcome it,” commented DAK president Dr Nissar-ul-Hassan. While not disparaging the private sector altogether – “let doctors who are not in a government service treat privileged patients in their clinics and private hospitals” – Dr Nissar-ul-Hassan said government-employed doctors shirk their duties in public hospitals if also participating in private practice. “These doctors are more interested to see patients in their clinics rather than to attend patients at their place of postings,” he said.

However, similar concerns as are being voiced now were raised at the time. “The government should start with medical colleges and give it a try,” said one senior orthopedic doctor. “[A] blanket ban will be catastrophic. I don’t think it’s a wise decision.” 

Concerning a ban on private practice, the office of the Lieutenant Governor is soliciting the feedback of principals of medical colleges. As the story develops, we will see if a ban on private practice by government doctors will improve the status of health infrastructure in Jammu and Kashmir or worsen it, as some fear. 

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