Bengaluru: A section of protesting doctors at private hospitals in Karnataka called off their strike on Thursday after the Karnataka High Court asked them to withdraw the agitation, reflecting a division within the medical community.
A health crisis lurked in Karnataka as doctors in private hospitals across the state on Thursday shut out-patient departments (OPD) indefinitely, intensifying their stir against proposed amendments to an act aimed at making them accountable for medical negligence.
Hearing the PIL petitions, which complained about severe hardship being caused to patients, the court said the government had an "open mind" on the issue and the Karnataka Private Medical Establishment (Amendment) Bill, 2017, had not yet been tabled in the assembly.
Doctors affiliated to five medical bodies yesterday announced the shutdown of OPD services till the government dropped its move.
Health services in private hospitals and nursing homes were crippled twice in the last two weeks by strikes by doctors who alleged that the proposed changes, which among others provide for jail term for medical negligence, were "draconian" in nature.
Doctors are opposing the amendments to the Karnataka Private Medical Establishments Act, 2007, which among others proposes six months to three years of jail term and a hefty penalty for medical negligence on their part.
The amendments, which also arms the government with powers to fix the cost of treatment, are based on recommendations of former Supreme Court judge Vikramajit Sen.
Soon after the court's observations, doctors belonging to Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association (PHANA) called off their strike. But the four other private doctors' associations stuck to their decision to stop OPD services indefinitely from Thursday.
PHANA president Dr C Jayanna said the association has decided to call off its strike in view of sufferings of people.
A division bench comprising acting Chief Justice H G Ramesh and Justice P S Dinesh Kumar said there was no strong case for the doctors to protest as the amendment bill has not yet been tabled in the assembly and adjourned further hearing on PIL petitions on the matter for tomorrow.
Amid reports that the strike has caused several deaths in the state with serious patients being unattended to, more than 22,000 doctors went on an indefinite strike in Bengaluru alone. This manifested in the unmanageable rush at government hospitals.
Government-run Victoria Hospital, K C General Hospital and Bowring Hospital, the three prominent hospitals of Bengaluru, attended to a large number of patients.
In a casualty of the strike, students of a school at neighbouring Ramanagar, who were injured after their van and a bus collided reportedly faced difficulties after a nearby private hospital allegedly refused to treat them and referred them to Bengaluru, the police said.
Two children were killed and seven others injured in the accident, they said.
In Jamakhandi Taluk in Bagalkote district, a seriously ill woman was taken to a private hospital, but allegedly there were none to attend her.
She was rushed to government hospital, but died on the way, her family alleged.
In view of the strike, the health department has directed Taluk Health Officers and its programme officers to attend to clinical services till further orders.
The crippling of medical services led to furore in the Karnataka Assembly, whose winter session is in progress in Belagavi.
The government was ready to talk to agitating doctors and would try to find solution to the issue, Health Minister Ramesh Kumar said.
Replying to opposition BJP, the minister said it was not a prestige issue for him.
It is the doctors who have made it a prestige issue, as they have called for a state wide agitation, when the Bill was yet to be tabled, he alleged.
"We will try to find a solution soon, we are open for discussion with doctors," the minister said.
Disappointed with the minister's response, BJP members walked out of the House demanding immediate resolution, saying a delay may cause more deaths of patients.
Kumar said doctors have a responsibility and by shutting medical services they were making the common man suffer. The government has no intention to harass doctors or the private medical institutions, he said.
"As we empanelled you and we have to pay you tax payers money for services, we have to fix charges for services...," he said.
The minister said he had no plans to resign if the Bill was not tabled during the session as reported by some sections in the media.
The Bill was first tabled in the assembly on June 13, and later sent to the joint select committee following opposition by doctors and medical professionals.