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OPDs open despite strike

Outpatient departments at Peerless Hospital and (below) NRS Medical College and Hospital on Tuesday morning

A march by doctors to protest the National Medical Commission Bill, 2017, in Calcutta on Tuesday. Pictures by Pradip Sanyal and Bishwarup Dutta 

Calcutta: Outpatient departments at private hospitals in the city functioned normally on Tuesday despite a 12-hour shutdown call across the country by the Indian Medical Association (IMA) to protest a central bill for a new medical regulatory structure.

At government hospitals, too, the OPDs were open though many doctors wore black badges as a mark of protest and a handful refused to examine "cold OPD patients" - ones not having any acute illness - and those coming from nearby areas.

The patient footfall at most hospitals was low as news of the 6am-6pm call for shutdown of outpatient consultations had been doing the rounds. The OPD areas in some private hospitals Metro visited were empty.

The low footfall allowed a patient from Dhaka, Mohammed Kabir Hussain, to consult two doctors at Peerless hospital - an orthopaedic and an ophthalmologist - and also get some eye tests done.

He could do all these in just two hours, unthinkable on other days.

An official at Ruby General Hospital said all 32 doctors had turned up in the OPD but the patient count was around 200.

The bone of contention - the National Medical Commission Bill, 2017 - was sent to a parliamentary standing committee by Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan during the day. The committee has to file its report before Parliament meets for the budget session.

The IMA, the largest body of doctors in the country, and even the doctors not within its fold have been protesting the bill on the grounds that it would encourage quackery by allowing non-MBBS doctors to prescribe modern medicine.

Another grouse of the protestors is that the National Medical Commission, which the bill seeks to replace the Medical Council of India (MCI) with, will have several nominated members, apart from five elected doctors.

The MCI is entirely an elected body of doctors.

"In spirit, I am with the protest. The bill can be dangerous as it seeks to allow practitioners of homeopathy and ayurveda to prescribe allopathic drugs after attending a 'bridge course'. But a strike can never be a mode of protest for doctors," said Ashim Kumar Pal, the head of the department of medicine at Peerless hospital, who started his OPD consultation at 9am as usual.

Another doctor at the hospital, however, said he was "not totally opposed to the new bill" because he thought the MCI was in need of more regulation.

At NRS Medical College and Hospital, however, there was the usual rush of outdoor patients. "I am apprehensive about quite a few aspects of the new bill. But we don't want patients to suffer. So, I am wearing a black badge and examining patients," said Suhasini Sil, an intern in the orthopaedics department.

A professor of cardiology, Keshab Sinha Roy, said he had only treated those patients in the OPD who had come from faraway places or been suffering from some acute problems. The rest were asked to come back later.

Altogether 3,003 patients had turned up at the NRS outpatient departments on Tuesday. "It's slightly less than the average daily footfall," an official said.

State IMA secretary Santanu Sen said it had never been the intention of the protest to inconvenience patients. "We have shown that doctors can protest even while treating patients. No one was inconvenienced in Bengal and yet the bill has been sent to the standing committee," he said.

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