PATIENTS from all over the country suffered immensely as physicians abstained from their private practice on Sunday. The work abstention, as New Age reported on Monday, was part of the Bangladesh Medical Association’s month-long protest against recent attacks on physicians and medical associations. According to BMA records, 73 physicians came to be attacked on allegations that they had provided wrong treatment in the past five years. While the attack on medical service providers by patients or their relatives is condemnable, the BMA’s decision to abstain from private practice to demand safe work environment is also a breach of their professional ethics. Physicians by profession are ethically pledge-bound to treat patients. It is, therefore, a breach of oath to abstain from work in protest given their action could cause immense sufferings to patients. It is even more unsettling that the Bangladesh Medical Association, instead of finding other means to push for its demands, has chosen such a path.
THE news of public and private health service providers, including physicians, abstaining from work has historically become a common reality in Bangladesh. Earlier on May 18, physicians across the country went on strike in protest at vandalism at Central Hospital, followed by the arrest of a physician in Dhaka over the death of a Dhaka University student for alleged wrong treatment. Similarly, on March 5, interns at hospitals across the country went on a 72-hour strike protesting at the suspension of four of their fellows for their assault on a patient’s relatives in Bogra. In January 2016, when two patients sued three doctors in Chittagong, accusing them of being negligent, physicians of private hospitals there had abstained from work for four days. It is obvious from the situation that the BMA has sidestepped the issue of medical negligence that has created the crisis in the first place. According to Ain O Salish Kendra, the media reported at least 504 cases of medical negligence in June 1995–September 2008. From the inception of the Bangladesh Medical and Dental Council in 1973 till 2009, the regulatory body for physicians has received around 2300 complaints and it only took action against only one physician, suggesting that other cases lacked evidence. Explicitly, the health sector needs a clear mechanism to address and resolve grievances of patients and their attendants. However, the Medical Services Bill 2016, as drafted by the health and family welfare ministry, seeks to provide immunity for physicians for their negligence. It must be underscored that without restoring a trustworthy relationship between patients and health care providers, it will not be possible to resolve the crisis at hand.
Every physician has professional, legal and moral duty towards his patients. They should, therefore, not resort to strike or abstain from discharging their responsibilities to push for their cause. The government, particularly the health and family welfare ministry, must immediately enact a medical negligence law to control and prevent widespread medical malpractice in the country.
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