Just when the government was getting ready to enforce the controversial Clinical Establishment Act after pussyfooting over the past two years, during which period 30 amendments were made, it is back to square one. It has been put on hold once again.
Buckling under strong protests from the Indian Medical Association (IMA), the largest body of doctors in Bengal, the government has decided to send the file once again to a review committee to try and omit a section, which states that “individual doctors in private practice will have to renew their establishment licence every year”.
The IMA lodged vehement protests with the state government a few days ago after an official gazette published by the government confirmed that its stand on licence renewal remained unchanged.
“Although the government has agreed to make several changes, it has strangely remained silent on the renewal issue. We have, therefore, told the government that we will boycott the new act unless the renewal issue is sorted out and private doctors are allowed to register their names only once,” IMA state branch secretary Moloy Patra said on Monday.
As a result, the act, which has been chopped and changed many times, is once again on hold awaiting the verdict of yet another review committee. The government made several amendments to the Clinical Establishment Rules in 2001, and then turned it into an act in January 2002.
The Calcutta branch of the IMA has also joined the protests. It has made an additional demand — that private doctors be allowed to practice in pharmacies. State health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra had said in a meeting that the government would never allow private doctors to practice in pharmacies.
“We will call a strike if necessary. For years, poor patients who have no means of shelling out steep fees have flocked to pharmacies. What will happen to them now'” asked senior Calcutta branch functionary and joint secretary (headquarters) R.D. Dubey.
Health department officials said the new act would be enforced shortly after making the “necessary changes”.
Bowing to immense pressure from the doctors’ lobby, the government has agreed to make several changes, like allowing private doctors to continue to see patients in their old chambers and also reduce registration and renewal fees of private chambers in rural areas.
Once the new act is implemented, nearly 1,500 medium to large doctors’ chambers in the city and 500-odd nursing homes will be affected and will have to register their names once again. Several amendments were made in the act to make the doctors more accountable and to curb the unchecked growth of private nursing homes.
Initially, the government had raised the trade licence fees for nursing home owners to Rs 2,500 from Rs 100 in the city, and to Rs 500 from Rs 10 in Howrah. The government has agreed to scale it down to Rs 2,000 in Calcutta.