On a chilly morning,a large number of patients men and women shiver as they wait for their appointment with the doctor. The patients wait in open on the first floor of a commercial building in congested city centre Lal Chowk where senior gastroenterologist,Dr Gul Javid runs his private clinic. “We are waiting here since 6 in the morning,” says Bashir Ahmad. “But here is huge rush and I think I will not get my turn”.
In clear violation of the J-K government ordinance that bans private practice of the doctors and paramedical staff of the Sher i Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS),a large number of doctors and paramedics openly run their private clinics in the city. And this private practice of doctors and paramedics severely upsets the healthcare in valleys premier tertiary care hospital.
In the city centre,the first shutter rolls-up in a congested commercial building at Court Road. In the winter chill,Dr Gul Javid steps in at 7 am to end an anxious wait of a large number of patients,men and women of all ages. It is eight in the morning and Nazir Ahmad Mir is there already for two hours now. “I have to show my daughter to Dr sahib,” he says. “This is for the third consecutive day that I have come here. I didn’t get turn previous days”.
Mir doesn’t know about the government ordinance banning the private practice of SKIMS doctors. “Even if there is a ban,I have no option,” he says. “I have nowhere to go. I visited hospital many times but there is huge rush of patients. The doctors there don’t examine patients in detail”.
Dr Javid isn’t the only SKIMS doctor running his private clinic. A large number of doctors posted at the tertiary care hospital are running private clinics mostly from their homes or in the outskirts of the Srinagar city. At Peerbagh in Srinagar,Dr Mushtaq Wani,Head of Department of Neurology in SKIMS runs his clinic from home. “I have come from Kupwara to meet Dr sahib,” says Abdul Rehman Bhat accompanying his 15-year-old child. “I was told that he is the best doctor to treat my son’s ailment. I stayed here (in Srinagar) for a night to reach early morning”.
At Rawalpora,a crowd of patients are waiting outside Dr Altaf Ramzan’s clinic. Another group of patients are queued up a few kilometres away at Dr Saleem Najar’s clinic. At Jawahar Nagar,the private clinic of Dr Showkat Zargar is closed but the neighbours say that the clinic is thronged by large number of patients everyday. “You will have to wait for several days before you get your turn,” says a neighbour as he shows the entrance of Zargar’s private clinic. The entrance to the clinic has been opened from the deserted embankment of flood spill channel.
In fact,the doctors are all misusing the hospital resources and the tests of their private patients are carried out in the hospital labs. In some cases,the hospital operation theatres are used for the private patients also.
The J-K government in 2001 passed an ordinance banning the private practice of SKIMS doctors to ensure smooth functioning of the SKIMS hospital. The government ordinance says that any violation of the ban will come under the definition of criminal misconduct as per the Criminal Law (amendment) Ordinance,2001. By another amendment in the Prevention of Corruption Act,the government passed a law to take action against any member of the Sheri Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences for criminal misconduct if he or she resorts to private practice in any form or manner. The ordinance also says “whosoever abets or aids in the omission of criminal misconduct under Section 1-A or allows his/her premises or nursing homes to be used for private practice in contravention of the said sub-section,shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine which may extend up to rupees 10,000”. The doctors and paramedics of SKIMS are paid a non-practicing allowance to compensate for the losses incurred because of ban.
In fact,in 2006,the Vigilance Organization J-K’s highest anti-corruption body registered a case against Dr Khursheed Alam Wani of SKIMS for indulging in private practice. The case is pending in the court.
However,the government in the past seven years has never seriously tried to implement this ordinance. In fact,it is also difficult to take action against these doctors keeping in view its large scale. And not only the doctors run their private clinics but a large number of patients prefer to go to these private clinics calling for a rethink from the government. “The government should first give a perfect alternative to the people,” says Dr Niyaz Jan. “They (government) should create the required infrastructure which is necessary to prevent the private practice of doctors. They should allow the private practice of doctors during specific non-official hours”.