Nearly six months after acclaimed ENT specialist Dr Chittaranjan Bhave succumbed to COVID-19, his family is still trying to come to terms with his loss. Dr Bhave was among the many private doctors who resumed treating patients at a time when Mumbai was still unprepared to deal with the deadly pandemic back in May 2020.
“My husband had been anyway getting continuous calls from his own patients also, and he, being a surgeon, seeing the ear and nose online was not possible. So, he thought that, ‘I should slowly start my practice and maybe on fixed days of the week, I should start going'. So that is how in the first week of May he started again.”Mrs Sujata Bhave, Dr Chittaranjan Bhave’s wife
Within two weeks of resuming work, Dr Bhave tested COVID positive, his condition rapidly deteriorated and on 1 June, he breathed his last. But despite his dedication to his profession, Dr Bhave’s family is not entitled to the Rs 50 lakh insurance that families of government doctors who succumb to COVID-19 are entitled to.
Catch the full interview with Dr Bhave’s family here.
‘It’s Very Humiliating’
Around May 2020, the Maharashtra government invoked the Epidemic Diseases Act, Disaster Management Act and Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act, making it mandatory for private doctors in Mumbai to report to hospitals for treatment of COVID patients. Failure to report to the hospital would have cost the practitioners their license.
If private and government doctors were both executing their duties, why the discrimination, asks Dr Bhave’s family. “It was not a private practice that the doctor was doing, it was a public duty because the government needed all its medical practitioners, whether private or public sector practitioners, to come on and practice because obviously, the infrastructure was not there for such a huge pandemic,” points out Dr Bhave’s daughter, Shraddha.
“It’s not just the obvious financial help that would be available to the families, but it’s also a mark of disrespect when you are inviting the claims and then rejecting them. So, it’s very humiliating. And that’s not how the government should treat its doctors who are doing a public duty.”Shraddha Bhave, Dr Bhave’s daughter
Doctors’ Pleas Fall on Deaf Ears
According to the Maharashtra Indian Medical Association (IMA), at least 62 private doctors have lost their lives to COVID-19 in the state over the last 9 months. Associations such as the IMA and Association of Medical Consultants, wrote letters to the Centre, State and met Ministers and top bureaucrats in Maharashtra to request insurance claims for private doctors.
All requests however, fell on deaf ears. “When the death claims of private doctors got rejected, it was very, very disappointing because we have in no less way contributed during this pandemic. When the healthcare system was crumbling, we have been their main support and at this time, to negate a doctor’s contribution by refusing his death is very sad,” said Dr Nilima Vaidya Bhamare, Secretary of Association of Medical Consultants.
Her thoughts were echoed by the IMA State President, Dr Avinash Bhondwe.
“This is unfortunate because private doctors also worked shoulder to shoulder with all the government doctors. In Maharashtra, 70 percent patients were treated by private doctors because the number was very high in the months of August-September and October. That time, government hospitals were absolutely full and only 30 percent patients could be catered to. Most of the patients were treated by the private hospitals.”Dr Avinash Bhondwe, President, IMA Maharashtra
The Indian Medical Association has written multiple letters to the Maharashtra government and the Centre, highlighting the issue. “Government of Maharashtra should form a fund. They can give an ex-gratia amount which will be very less. Suppose they give around Rs 25 lakh for around 62 doctors, that is around Rs 15-16 crore. This is not very high. They have not even sent condolence letters to these doctors, that also we had requested,” added Dr Avinash Bhondwe.
Meanwhile, the Association of Medical Consultants is now looking to explore legal options to pursue the matter.