Should strike be allowed by medical professionals such as doctors? This debate is currently creating a tug of war between the largest association of doctors - the Indian Medical Association and the regulators and the law makers.
Citing that right to protest is a fundamental right, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) on May 22 said it would stand with all legal strikes by doctors,
a day after the Medical Council of India (MCI) issued orders banning doctors from striking and instructing state medical councils to take immediate disciplinary action against the medical professionals going against the order.
The IMA authorities explained that the MCI cannot ban strikes because right to protest is a fundamental right under Article 19 of the Constitution of India.
Dr Krishna Kumar Aggarwal, Honorary Secretary General, IMA, said that doctors' protests are legal if it does not harm lives of innocent people.
"We are not buying into the order of the MCI. Strikes are legal if it is conducted after adequate notice and if it doesn't affect the patients who need emergency services," Dr Aggarwal said.
However, Dr Aggarwal said that the IMA is strictly against the unnecessary and illegal protests. "We are also aware that doctors are agents of God and should perform duties with utmost sincerity. We will never support a strike which is illegal and that puts people in trouble," he added.
IMA members claimed that doctors make sure that the emergency and essential services never suffered whenever they conduct a strike.
"Even though there were reports all over media that we were on strike, all of us were still working, and saving lives. We consult with our patients and ensure their safety. The only service that was affected was the outpatient department (OPD). Still, the OPD will be manned by senior consultants. The MCI and the Court have not considered these factors while declining our fundamental right to protest," said Dr. M. Balasubramanian, former state president of Indian Medical Association - Tamil Nadu.
The long awaited action from MCI comes in the wake of the apex court's order dated November 11, 2014, passed on a Public-Interest-Litigation (PIL) filed by People for Better Treatment (PBT) against the massive IMA strike in 2012. The strike was organized as part of the protest the law to regulate costs of treatment in private clinical establishments.
The MCI circular says, "The Ethics Committee has decided that a copy of the Supreme Court order be forwarded to all state medical councils with a note to ask them to take cognizance of any matter related to doctors strike and take necessary action against doctors concerned."
State MCI officials confirmed that the order banning doctors' strikes has been received from their head office in New Delhi and would be followed strictly.
"Each time doctors in the city call a strike, lakhs of people suffer. There is no excuse for putting patients through such trauma. However, there are several incidents of assault on doctors and hospitals. The state governments should ensure that the Hospital Protection Act is implemented effectively," said an MCI official.
The PIL was considered by a Bench headed by Chief Justice of India HL Dattu. They relied on a 2006 judgment of a Constitution Bench in a case seeking action against striking advocates. The Constitution Bench in 2006 ordered that the Bar Council of India and state bar councils must take action against bar associations on strike and sponsors of such strikes. The same analogy must be applied to doctors. The Medical Council of India and its sub councils should take suitable action against striking doctors.
Kunal Saha, head, PBT, said, "It is sad that our system took several months to introduce a regulation on doctors' strike which crippled the entire healthcare system in the country."