When it comes to the struggle over access to healthcare, much of the focus is devoted to shortages of doctors. What can be overlooked is the problem of doctor absenteeism. In Bhagalpur, medical authorities have taken action against absentee staff members of one hospital who did not attend a Medical Council of India (MCI) inspection.
The Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College and Hospital (JNMCH) was visited by the MCI on April 15th, in connection with plans to recognise 100 MBBS and postgraduate medical seats at the university versus the fifty recognised at present. The visit threw up a different issue altogether, however, with 33 staff members being absent without permission.
According to the hospital’s principal, Dr Hemant Kumar Sinha, the absentee doctors included three professors, two assistant professors, an associate professor, eleven tutors, and sixteen resident doctors. According to The Times of India, three heads of department hospital were among those not present during the inspection.
Show-cause notices have been issued to the absentees, who have also had salary deductions for the day they failed to show up. According to the hospital, no leave periods had been granted owing to the MCI inspection and to the ongoing general election.
Doctor absenteeism has frustrated India’s healthcare system, exacerbating the issues caused by the country’s dismal doctor-patient ratio. In Bihar alone, there is one doctor for every 28,391 people. Such shortages have led to unorthodox proposals to remedy the situation at the national level, including training ayurvedic doctors and dentists to stand in for allopathic doctors and allowing unqualified quack doctors to practise medicine safely.
Of the doctors and other medical professionals India does have, almost forty percent do not turn up to work on a typical day. This is bad news for patients, who may have to forsake care because there is not a doctor there to see them. Ensuring that doctors guilty of this practise are appropriately disciplined, as they have been at JNMCH, is necessary in order to move forward in addressing the twin issues of absenteeism and doctor shortages.