Private practice by the doctors has always been a contentious issue in the state. The opinion in its favour and against is very strong. Many of those who want the practice banned aren’t necessarily informed by a rational understanding of the issue. The reason mostly proffered is the poor service at the government hospitals which is true. It is depressing to see jostling crowds of patients and their kin waiting outside the Out Patient Departments of the government healthcare institutions in Valley and then at the end of this long wait find the senior doctors absent. Or even if the doctors are present the treatment they provide is generally perfunctory in nature.
But those who speak for the private practice – and this includes majority of the doctors themselves – point to the huge rush of the patients at the hospitals as the reason enough for giving the needy patients an option to receive treatment in the private. Besides, the patients who can afford the private treatment should have the opportunity to avail it. Both these arguments are correct and bring out the different shades of truth about this problematic subject. But the problem with the arguments is that they do not put the issue into perspective. True, government hospitals are overcrowded and we need a private sector which will cater to the needy and affluent patients. This will in turn take some pressure off the government hospitals.
But the fact that in Valley it is the same doctors who simultaneously serve in both the sectors and at the expense of the government sector generates strong passions. The calls for the ban on private practice become shrill, so do the attempts to defend it. Not that the government has not forbidden the private practice in the past. The doctors were barred from practicing in the private twice in the past – in 1986 and 1995 – and on both occasions the bans were subsequently withdrawn. This calls for a fresh look at the issue. Bans haven’t and don’t work. More so, when our hospitals aren’t adequately equipped to handle the ever-increasing rush of patients and our private sector isn’t developed enough to provide an alternative option of treatment. So, a sudden ban in the past has triggered chaos in the state as it almost completely denied people the facility of private patient care.
The problem is that the healthcare in private sector is run by the government doctors and for now there is no running away from this fact. It is therefore important that our best doctors remain available for consultation both in their official and private capacities. But while the government has already recognised this fact by letting the government doctors in the state to see patients privately also, it has made an exception for the doctors from Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS). The doctors at the tertiary healthcare facility are provided Non Practicing Allowance. But far from helping improve the healthcare, the ban has deprived the institute of the services of competent doctors. According to an estimate, around 44 percent of faculty positions are vacant at the SKIMS and this is not only affecting the patient care but medical education at the institute as well. Doctors generally don’t want to serve at the SKIMS as doing so bans them from private practice and the consequent severe shortage of the staff adds to the workload of the doctors on roll. There is thus a strong case for the government to revisit the ban and bring the SKIMS doctors on par with the doctors from other hospitals.