The showdown between private doctors and associations championing the cause of patients has peaked, with the former going on an indefinite strike.

At the heart of the matter are the amendments to the Karnataka Private Medical Establishments Act (KPME), which has proposed caps on the cost of healthcare, legal accountability and the setting up a grievance redressal committee. The Bill is being tabled in the Winter Session of State Legislature.

Around 500 doctors, including the likes of Devi Shetty, founder, Narayana Health, BS Ajaikumar, Chairman and CEO, HCG hospital, assembled in front of Indian Medical Association (IMA) office, opposing the KPME Act.

While doctors have insisted that in most larger hospitals, emergency services are functional, patients have been at the receiving end. According to sources, patients in hospitals like HCG, Vikram and others have had delays in OPD services and in many cases, services were not available. “We did not have any OPDs. Essential services, as mandated by the IMA, were functional,” said an HCG spokesperson.

Critical patients were shifted to government hospital including Jayadeva, Victoria and Nimhans.

The stance by doctors has not gone down well with associations such as the Karnataka Janaarogya Chaluvali (KJC), which termed it a “misinformation campaign”. Akhila Vasan of the KJC told BusinessLine that there is a need for anti-profiteering clauses as health care is not a commodity but an inalienable human right and a marker of equal citizenship. “The unregulated profiteering private health sector driven by its need to expand its market is a direct threat to people’s lives and by its very existence will ensure that the public health system is not strengthened,” she added.

These developments come in the backdrop of patients struggling with rising healthcare costs and their helplessness in case of legal recourse in case of doctor errors. Vasan pointed to the instance of Centre capping the price of cardiac stents after hospitals were making profits of 600 per cent on them.

Interestingly, the Supreme Court has defended the government’s authority to regulate healthcare costs in public interest, said a senior IAS officer.

There is also the issue of legal accountability in case of mistakes such as the improper administering of anaesthesia. “Private hospitals are operating in a regulatory vaccum and only KPME can ensure some oversight,” said Vasan. However, Ajaikumar counters that this could erode trust between patients and doctors. “There are some bad apples but with this you are throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” he said, referring to a possibility of doctors shying away from performing complex operations due to fear of oversight.

Meanwhile, Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah, along with the health minister Ramesh Kumar, is slated to meet doctors on Friday.