KATHMANDU, Sept 3: Health services across the country remained paralyzed on Sunday leaving tens of thousands of patients without medical care after the doctors staged protests demanding amendments to the new Criminal Code 2017, which came into effect from August 17.
The Nepal Medical Association (NMA) has urged the government to amend the Clauses 230, 231, 232 and 240 of the Criminal Code 2017 immediately, saying that the law has categorized the doctors as criminals. The Code has provisioned three to five years' imprisonment for a doctor as well as a fine of Rs 30,000 if a patient dies in course of treatment due to doctors' negligence.
On Sunday, the first day of the scheduled protests, doctors halted all but emergency services and marched from Maitighar to New Baneshwar of Kathmandu. Both public and private hospitals were affected by the protest. There are about 500 hospitals including private ones and additional around 4,000 public health facilities in the country.
Protesting against new codes, the NMA, an umbrella organization of medical professionals, handed over 6,000 licenses of doctors to the Nepal Medical Council (NMC), the apex medical body responsible for overseeing the medical sector.
There are over 21,000 doctors registered with the NMC, according to the NMC officials. However, only about 11,000 are practicing now in the country, said Dr. Mukti Ram Shrestha, president of the NMA.
Dr. Shrestha said the remaining doctors will also hand over their licenses to the NMC.
The licenses were handed over to the NMC to avoid possible action from the government, according to the protesting doctors. They argued that they would not be responsible for their duties after surrendering their licenses to the government.
The government can take action against the doctors under the essential services act if they stopped providing their services. Issuing a press statement on Sunday the Ministry of Health and Population has warned of taking action against the doctors for dereliction of duty saying that the ministry has the legal power to do so.
Baburam Khanal, under-secretary at the ministry, has urged the doctors not to stop their protests and return to work at the earliest.
Doctors, however, have rejected the request. Addressing the protest rally organized at New Baneshwar, medical sector reforms crusader Dr. Govinda KC, complained that the new law has discouraged the doctors from treating patients with dedication and confidence. Meanwhile, Dr. KC speaking at the rally on Sunday asked: "Who will be responsible if patients die in ambulances?"