No one likes to go to hospital, and many would be overcome by a special kind of fear if they had to go to a hospital in West Bengal. Dirt, callousness and corruption on the one hand compete with inexplicable expenses, excessive tests and over-treatment on the other. Government and private hospitals have their own respective approaches to the sick, and neither has yet inspired undying confidence in the hearts of the people of the state. Many of those who are able opt for treatment in other states. That is a pity, for some of the most dedicated doctors and medical professionals work in West Bengal, trying to do their best in what is often a very difficult situation. It is not as if the establishment helps them. For example, that some private hospitals and nursing homes in Calcutta routinely employ as residential medical officers people trained in homeopathy, unani or ayurvedic medicine is a fact that would be enough to frighten the most acutely ill patient off medical institutions in the city for good.
The RMO is supposed to be a figure of reassurance, a saviour in times of crisis. But untrained in allopathic medicine, he or she cannot administer it in a time of crisis since that is illegal. The law regarding their employment is large-hearted and sloppy, allowing anyone trained in any of the medical disciplines, traditional or modern, to be employed as RMO as long as the discipline matches that “for which the clinical establishment is set up”. The slightest loophole is enough. Since the licence for a hospital does not require it to define its discipline, doctors from all disciplines are hired. Non-allopathic professionals can be paid less, and be relied on not to leave for higher studies. For the management, risking patients’ lives is obviously less of an issue, let alone the ethics of letting them believe they are paying for the care of allopathic doctors. Amazingly, the official reason for this mismatch is that the state does not produce enough MBBS graduates. All these years, in spite of the fact that one of the very articulate dreams of Bengali middle-class parents has been to turn their children into doctors, the state has lagged behind. The government will now add some more MBBS seats and also alter the law. That sounds hopeful, but such changes are not enough. The people of West Bengal need to see evidence of a change of mindset — one that will not be miserly with their lives or with their aspirations.