No More Private Practice?

Dr Asangba Tzudir

The directive of the Government of Nagaland to government doctors to stop private practice is a serious concern and calls for a thorough deliberation. There are various perspectives based on which an individual can pass judgments. One may even bluntly say that it is selfishness on the part of a government doctor who engages in private practice, while adding that they are also neglecting their duty. One may even hear complaints of government doctors calling patients to be treated in their private clinics or in the private hospital where they work. 

Now, in reference to two Punjab government doctors who were charging Rs 100 per patient in an evening private clinic, and against whom FIR was lodged, it was quashed by the Supreme Court stating that “Private practice by government doctors (is) no crime.” The Supreme Court ruled that government doctors defying the ban on private practice and charging consultation fee from patients in a clinic during spare time could neither be accused of indulging in trade nor be booked under the anti-corruption law (Dhananjay Mahapatra/TNN/Updated April 29, 2011). 

Now looking at the other perspectives, there are doctors who have even quit their government service simply because they cannot practice in the field of their specialization in the government sector either because of lack of equipments or facilities to exercise their skills in their area of specialization. Further on, irrespective of whether a doctor is in the government sector or not, if he or she possesses the required specialization then private institutions will also seek them. 

One can also imagine a scenario where all those government doctors who are also serving in private clinics or hospitals adhere to the government directive and stop their private practice? Many doctors come with various specializations which often can only be practiced in private hospitals due to lack of facilities in the government hospitals. And if their private practice is stopped it will be the patients seeking their specialized health care service that will suffer, and irrespective of whether one can afford or not, they will be compelled to go out of Nagaland to seek medical help. It will then become very difficult especially for emergency case patients who require immediate medical intervention. 

With this order in force, what is the alternative of the state Government to bridge the gap of issues arising out of the stoppage of private practice? Will the new medical college and hospital cater to the needs of the emerging healthcare delivery issues for all the people of Nagaland?   

While the Supreme Court in connection with the case of the two Punjab government doctors has pronounced that it is no crime for Government doctors indulging in private practice, going into the morality of the present issue, it may be considered not a crime but definitely unethical for any government doctor if they neglect ones duty by giving primary importance to private practice during their mandated working hours in the government sector. This can be expected as a moral minimum.

Coming to the recent directive, a detail analysis of the ground realities and its impact on the people needs to be studied first before such blanket directives are put out. For now, it is mainly the patients that will be affected through such directives.

(Dr Asangba Tzudir writes a weekly guest editorial for The Morung Express. Comments can be mailed to [email protected])