Indian doctors stage nationwide strike for better working conditions
NEW DELHI, June 17: Hundreds of thousands of doctors across India went on strike on Monday demanding better working conditions, the country's top medical body said, as the outrage over lax security conditions at hospitals escalated.
The nationwide protests, affecting hundreds of hospitals, started after an attack at a medical college in West Bengal state a week ago. The attack left three junior doctors seriously injured after a dispute with a family whose relative had died.
The incident resonated with Indian doctors, many of whom are poorly paid and overworked compared with their foreign counterparts. Thousands of doctors protested outside hospitals across India on Monday, holding placards and wearing black arm bands and bloodied mock bandages.
The Indian Medical Association (IMA), that represents more than 300,000 doctors and half-a-million junior doctors, medical students and other staff, said almost all of its members, apart from those providing emergency services, have joined the protests.
"Practically, the entire medical fraternity is on strike," Dr RV Asokan, the IMA's honorary general secretary told Reuters on Monday. "Everybody is on the street."
The IMA is demanding tougher punishments for those who attack doctors, as well as higher recruitment to support the overworked staff.
A doctor in an outpatient unit in India often saw more than 100 patients in a day, Asokan said, and despite tens of thousands of junior doctors graduating every year, many were out of work.
"The workload of doctors is inhuman," he said. "The government is not recruiting enough."
Doctors, who have been protesting in West Bengal ever since the attack a week ago, were due to hold talks with the government after the state authorities permitted the media to cover the meeting.
There were queues at Ernakulam Government Hospital in the southern state of Kerala on Monday morning, as patients waited to consult the limited number of doctors who were on duty.
The situation in West Bengal is still grave and fear of violence is present in all medical colleges and major hospitals, the IMA claimed.
The violence following the attack on resident doctor Paribaha Mukherjee in West Bengal has been allowed to deteriorate into a major law and order situation, the medical body alleged.
"The crisis should be resolved to the satisfaction of the residents and the medical professionals of West Bengal. IMA proclaims solidarity with the resident doctors of West Bengal and appeals to the government of West Bengal to address and resolve the issue on war footing," the statement said.
Representatives from the IMA and Delhi Medical Association (DMA) had also called on Vardhan on June 15.
Stressing further on the need for avoiding such incidents in future, Vardhan had said law enforcement should prevail so that doctors and clinical establishments discharge their duties and professional pursuit without fear of any violence.
"Strict action against any person who assaults them, must be ensured by the law enforcement agencies," he had emphasised.
Vardhan cited a letter dated July 7, 2017 sent by the Union Health Ministry to all chief secretaries of states which contains the decision taken by an Inter-Ministerial Committee constituted by the ministry to review the issues raised by IMA.
The committee, in its report, had recommended that the Health Ministry shall suggest to all state governments which do not have specific legislation to protect doctors and health professionals to consider one to strictly enforce the provisions of special legislation wherever they exist or enforce the IPC and CrPC provisions with vigour.
The draft of The Protection of Medical Service Persons and Medical Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage or Loss of Property) Act, 2017, circulated to the states, includes clauses on penalty and recovery in case of loss/damage to property.
Doctors at the Centre-run Lady Hardinge Medical College and Hospital, and RML Hospital, and Delhi government's healthcare facilities such as GTB Hospital, Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar Hospital, Sanjay Gandhi Memorial Hospital and DDU Hospital, boycotted work and held protests on June 15.
However, emergency and ICU services were not hampered in these hospitals.
Resident doctors of AIIMS and Safdarjung Hospital, who resumed work after having boycotted it on Friday, Saturday have a 48-hour ultimatum to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to meet the demands of the state's agitating doctors, failing which they said they would go on an indefinite strike.
They attended patients wearing helmets and bandages on forehead as a sign of protest. -REUTERS