Out-patient services in private hospitals across Karnataka was affected on Monday as some 50,000 private doctors went on a strike to protest against an amendment bill intended to regulate their functioning. The strike will continue till their demands are met, said a senior Indian Medical Association (IMA) official.
"Out-patients were not seen or treated in private hospitals across the state today (Monday), as our members went on strike against the (amendment to the) Karnataka Private Medical Establishments (KPME) Act," IMA's state chapter Secretary B. Veeranna told IANS.
The private hospitals had very few doctors on duty to look after in-patients and for emergency services.
"We have decided to go on a relay hunger strike at Belagavi from Tuesday till the state government withdrew the stringent provisions in the amendment bill," asserted Veeranna.
About 300 private doctors will be on 24-hour relay hunger strike in batches near the Souvrna Soudha in the state's northern town till four provisions in the bill are withdrawn.
The private doctors are staging the hunger strike at Belagavi, about 500 km from the state capital Bengaluru, where the 10-day winter session of the state legislature began on Monday and the entire government machinery, including the cabinet, officials and lawmakers will stay put till November 24.
The 10-day session of the Assembly and Council is held in winter every year to address the issues of people living in the state's northern region.
The out-patient departments in private hospitals, which were shut on Monday across the state, will however resume services from Tuesday.
"Though Chief Minister Siddaramaiah held talks with us (five representatives of the IMA's state chapter) and assured us of looking into our demands, we will not budge till 'punitive' provisions were withdrawn," noted the Secretary.
The four main demands are inclusion of government doctors under the KPME Act, no grievances redressal committees, no penalty on erring doctors or their imprisonment for the death of any patient due to medical negligence and ceiling on cost of treatment only for the government health schemes under which eligible patients are treated in private hospitals or clinics.
"The government can fix the cost of treating patients under its health scheme in private hospitals but the same cost cannot be applied for treating private or other patients," noted Veeranna.
According to IMA's Karnataka Chapter President H.N. Ravindra, nearly 76 per cent of patients under the government health schemes are refereed to private hospitals or clinics, as state-run hospitals lack expertise and facilities to treat them for various diseases.
"The Chief Minister told us the amendment bill would be tabled in the assembly on Wednesday and discussed by the lawmakers along with the report of the joint select committee set up to study the provisions. We hope the government will meet our demands as even the opposition BJP and JD-S have supported us," stated Veeranna.
About 20,000 private doctors, Ayush practitioners, nurses, paramedics and medical students from across the state participated in the sit-in demo near the secretariat.
"We also took a protest rally and staged a sit-in demo to draw the attention of the government and the MLAs against the amendment bill which has anti-doctor and anti-patient provisions that will endanger private healthcare," Veeranna said.
About 45,000 private hospitals, including 5,000 in Bengaluru, were also shut on November 3, as doctors went on a flash strike, demanding changes in the amendment bill.