Ashraf’s Column

Friday, October 23, 2009

Our doctors need to be disciplined

Recently some surgeon(s) at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital stitched up a patient after surgery with a scalpel blade in the patient’s abdomen (DS October 22). A small schoolgirl lost her life in the same hospital due the negligence of the doctor(s) on duty (TV news October 22). Almost everyday many such incidents of criminal negligence, indifference, malpractice and incompetence by the doctors in Bangladesh are taking place in government and non-government hospitals. For obvious reasons it is not possible for the media to report all these unfortunate incidents. Since the liberation of Bangladesh we have not heard of any single case wherein any recalcitrant medical practitioner has been taken to task either by the government (ministry of health) or by the Bangladesh Medical and Dental Council (BMDC), the two guardians of our national healthcare system. In some cases, after the incidents were reported in the media, inquiry committees were constituted. Reports and recommendations submitted by these committees were never made public, nor did we ever hear that any actions were taken against any wrongdoing doctor. Some cases were taken to the court of law by those aggrieved parties who could afford such litigation, but with no result. Because the relevant laws in our country do not protect the rights of the patients. Whenever the health ministry or the BMDC is asked about such an incident the bosses who run these offices always come out with the pet reply that they have not received any such complaint in writing from the aggrieved patient or his/her next of kin. The other very common reply to such a query is that the existing laws in this regard are not adequate to take a recalcitrant doctor to task.

Be that as it may, the fact remains that the people of our country, even after 38 years of our independence, are still helpless hostages in the hands of our doctors. Our present health minister, the health advisor to the honorable prime minister and the state minister for health are all from the medical profession. (It is not understood why so many doctors are necessary to run one single ministry like the health ministry. The appointing authority might be reminded of the old proverb: Too many cooks spoil the broth.) The leading bureaucrats at the health ministry and the health directorate are all doctors. Being doctors themselves, all these (doctors turned) politicians and medical bureaucrats probably do not see anything wrong or unethical in the professional activities of their brothers and sisters in the medical profession. Their track record bears testimony to the fact that, for decades, they have so far been giving protection to the wrong doing doctors. Otherwise, the situation could not turn so bad, as it is today. The senior doctors who are running the affairs of the health ministry and BMDC as ministers, advisors or bureaucrats cannot escape the responsibility. Very often these leading doctors tell us in TV talk shows that they are handicapped by fund constraint to run the affairs of the health ministry effectively. It is only the half-truth, not the whole truth. What fund constraint stops a surgeon from taking the scalpel blade out of the abdomen before the patient is stitched up ? What fund constraint makes a government doctor leave his/her place of duty and indulge in private practice during the time when s/he is supposed to serve tax payers free of cost ? It is not always a question of availability of fund. In most cases our people are not getting proper attention of the doctors because of their greed for money. Most of our doctors conveniently forget that the medical colleges wherefrom they graduated were established and are run by the taxpayer’s money. The pay and allowances paid to the government doctors also come from the same source. Certainly they owe an obligation to our people. It is, therefore, primarily a question of attitude on the part of our doctors.

The present ministers and the advisor are very active leaders of the pro Awami League trade union of the doctors called Shwadhinota Chikitshok Parishod (SCP). Senior health officials, like DG health, are also leaders of SCP. Similarly, when BNP was in power the leaders of the Doctors’ Association of Bangladesh (DAB), the trade union of the pro BNP doctors ran the health care system of Bangladesh. It is these SCP and DAB leaders who for their personal aggrandizement are spoiling the health care system in our country. Otherwise, with all its shortcomings and fund constraints our government and non-government hospitals could offer much better service to our people.

Finally, I would like to draw the attention of the honorable prime minister and the members of our parliament to kindly look into the matter before one of their dear ones falls victim to the indifferent attitude of, or corrupt practice by, a doctor. It may so happen that one day, when they will no more be ministers or MPs, a dishonest doctor may victimize one of them. It is in their own interest, and the interest of the people whom they serve. We had enough of it. The nation can no more bear with the irresponsible and unethical activities of our doctors and their leaders. It is high time the government takes necessary actions to discipline the doctors before it is too late. The existing laws relating to medical profession are, no doubt, anti people. The present lawmakers may please make them pro people immediately. The parliament must make necessary laws to ban all trade unions like organizations like SCP and DAB. Bangladesh Medical Association (BMA) is good enough to look after and promote the professional interest of our doctors.

Before I finish I must apologize to those of our doctors who have been rendering dedicated service to our people. This letter is not meant for them. Surely they are the honorable exceptions. But the fact remains that however bright some white spots may appear on a blackboard, those cannot make the board look white.

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