The Delhi High Court has said services of resident doctors are imperative for functioning of hospitals in the current situation arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the authorities' decision to extend their training beyond schedule cannot be ex facie arbitrary or unreasonable.
The high court was hearing a plea by several doctors who are in DNB Super Speciality courses, challenging a May 4, 2021 notification by which the National Board of Examination (NBE) has extended their training beyond the scheduled date of its completion.
The doctors submitted that the DNB course is of three years and a mandatory extension of three months is permissible, which they have already served, and claimed that the authorities are not empowered to extend the course beyond this period.
“Having regard to the circumstances arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for continuation of residents as mentioned in the National Medical Commission (NMC) advisory dated April 27, 2021 – which has not been challenged in the writ petition – I am unable to accede to (advocate Sidharth) Yadav's request for an interim order," Justice Prateek Jalan said.
The court agreed with the submission of advocate T Singhdev for the NMC and advocate Kirtiman Singh for the NBE that the availability of resident doctors is imperative for the functioning of hospitals.
“In the present situation, the decision of the respondents cannot be said to be ex facie arbitrary or unreasonable,” it said. The high court said it was prima facie unable to accept the contention of the doctors' counsel that even in the circumstances arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic, the postponement of the practical examinations of the petitioners is on account of a deliberate stratagem adopted by the respondents.
“Be that as it may, the undisputed fact is that the petitioners are yet to complete their final practical examination, and the question of issuing a completion certificate or releasing them from their present training does not arise at this stage,” it said.
The court issued notices to the Centre, DNB and the NBE on the petition and asked them to file their replies within four months and listed the matter for further hearing on August 4.
Senior advocate Sidharth Yadav submitted that the NBE notification reflects a discrimination between the petitioner doctors who are undertaking the DNB Super Specialty courses as opposed to similarly placed doctors who are undertaking MD/MS courses, as they are not subject to the May 4 notification.
Advocates T Singhdev and Kirtiman Singh submitted that the services of the doctors who are undertaking MD and MS courses have also been extended and the May 4 notification does not refer to them because the NBE is only responsible for conducting the DNB examination.
The counsel said the NBE's communication is pursuant to the NMC's April 27 advisory, which notes that the final examinations of the postgraduate courses have been delayed this year in many institutions and that the PG-NEET examination for admission to postgraduate courses in the academic year 2021-22 has also been postponed.
They further said that the new batch of residents will be joining hospitals only after the completion of the PG-NEET examinations for 2021-22, and in the meantime, the hospitals require the services of the present residents, particularly in the unprecedented circumstances emanating out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The council told the court that the petitioner doctors have not completed their final examinations yet as the practical examination for the third year of DNB has been postponed.