At a time when patients in Belagavi were left in the lurch after private doctors went on protest against the Karnataka Private Medical Establishments Act (KPME) amendment bill, health minister KR Ramesh Kumar reacted in a most insensitive way. "Let them protest; they have every right to protest. Happy if they are protesting," was how minister Ramesh Kumar reacted when media persons questioned him on the government's stand on the controversial bill.

The bill that allows the government to rein in the private medical institutions is expected to be tabled at the Belagavi winter session. The doctors of Belagavi and surrounding districts are protesting against the bill near Suvarna Soudha in Belagavi to draw the attention of the session.

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But their decision has left the patients in the lurch. Majority of the private hospitals in Belagavi wore a deserted look and patients waiting helplessly for treatment was a common scene. Worst, the protest also hit some of the hospitals in Bengaluru and other districts. Suvarna News reported that doctors in Bengaluru KIMS Hospital and Davangere too had not turned up to their work indicating their participation in the protest.

It may be recalled here that the doctors in Bengaluru too had held a daylong protest bringing hospital work a halt, affecting patients.

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Yet, the government seems to be in no mood to have a dialogue with the doctors apart from making a few amendments to the bill. Health minister Ramesh Kumar who is expected to handle the situation in a better way rubbed salt on the wounds of doctors by stating that doctors have every right to protest and let them protest. This is expected to escalate the tension between the government and doctors, who are adamant about withdrawing the bill. The bill proposes to prescribe fixed prices for treatment and also recommends imprisonment of doctors who charge excess fees.

But in the vexed battle between the doctors and government, it is the patients across the state who are the real victims.