Medical professionals across the country staged protests on Monday in solidarity with their agitating colleagues in West Bengal. However, the day ended on a somewhat conciliatory note, with West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee holding a meeting with the doctors, and later saying that she was "glad that this meeting took place in such a cordial atmosphere".
By evening, the protesting doctors agreed to withdraw their week-long stir after Banerjee announced steps to scale up security at hospitals. In a statement before the media in the late evening hours, the doctors said, "We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the chief minister. After an enormous movement, the meeting and discussions with our chief minister met a logical end. Considering everything, we expect the government to solve the issues as discussed in due time. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to all seniors, juniors, patients, common people, intelligentsia and medical fraternity of the country who spontaneously extended their support and made this movement possible. We hope to maintain this unity in future."
However, healthcare services were severely affected across the country through the day as doctors wearing helmets and forming human chains went on a strike in solidarity with their protesting colleagues in West Bengal.
In the national capital, doctors at government and a few private hospitals boycotted work and staged protests. Doctors at the premier All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), who had earlier decided not to strike, too joined the protest after a doctor was allegedly manhandled by a patient's attendants.
Members of several resident doctors' associations also took out marches on their campuses to lodge protests.
Reason for the protest
Junior doctors across West Bengal were observing a strike in protest against an assault on two of their colleagues at NRS Hospital in Kolkata allegedly by the family members of a patient who died last Monday. Doctors across the country, including ones from AIIMS in Delhi as well as the Indian Medical Association, were also protesting in solidarity with their fraternity in Bengal against the treatment meted out to them.
The apex medical body in the country, the Indian Medical Association, has demanded a comprehensive central law in dealing with violence on doctors and healthcare staff, and in hospitals. Security measures and the determinants leading to violence should also be addressed, it said in a statement.
Exemplary punishment for perpetrators of violence should be a component of the central law and suitable amendments should be brought in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), the IMA said.
"We want a tough central law which sends shivers down the spine of anyone who even thinks of attacking a doctor," said Dr Rajeev Ranjan, general secretary, Resident Doctors Association (RDA), AIIMS, earlier in the day.
Negotiations between doctors, West Bengal govt
On Monday morning, the protesting doctors in Bengal rejected Mamata Banerjee's request for a closed-door meeting at state Secretariat Nabanna. At the general body meeting of junior doctors of Kolkata's NRS hospital, they decided to not attend the meeting with the chief minister at 3 pm.
The state government subsequently consented to the protesters' demand that the meeting should be held in the presence of media, but allowed only two regional news channels to cover the meeting.
The meeting subsequently took place at about 4 pm.
CNN-News18 quoted Banerjee as telling the protesting doctors during the meeting, "No false cases have been registered against doctors. Young doctors are our future. There is no intention to target young doctors."
The chief ministers is further reported to have suggested that not more than two relatives of patients should be allowed inside emergency wards, and that there should be dedicated PR persons at district-level hospitals to interact with patients' relatives, instead of the doctors doing so. She also instructed the Kolkata police commissioner Anuj Kumar to deploy a nodal police officer at every hospital as a measure to ensure the security of working doctors.
The doctors also demanded that she pay a visit to the junior doctor, who was critically injured during the clash at NRS hospital. To this, according to CNN-News18, she said, "You leave it to me on when and where I should visit, but keep in mind that it has never happened that an incident has taken place and I have not visited that spot."
The West Bengal chief minister also directed the formation of grievance redressal units in all state-run hospitals as proposed by the junior doctors. She said that the state government has taken adequate measures and arrested five people involved in the NRS incident.
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Saturday had asked states to consider enacting specific legislation for protecting doctors and medical professionals from any form of violence.
Patients face tough time
A large number of patients and their relatives, caught unawares about the strike, were seen waiting outside various hospitals, appealing to authorities for help.
In many government and private hospitals across the country, out-patient departments (OPD) remained closed and scheduled surgeries were postponed. However, emergency services remained operational.
"Those patients or their relatives who take the law into their hands should be strictly dealt with. While we understand the pain of the doctors, is it justified that patients who travel hundreds of kilometres to get treatment at the PGI suffer like this?" asked an elderly patient visiting the OPD at the PGIMER in Chandigarh.
Outside a government hospital in Thiruvananthapuram, a patient said, "We left our homes at 3 am and do not know if the doctors will attend to us."
Many patients were aware of the stir on Monday, as scores of doctors in Delhi had boycotted work and held demonstrations on Friday and Saturday, but many still turned up at the facilities only to be turned away or wait for long hours.
More than 40,000 doctors in Maharashtra boycotted work, according to an IMA official. In Goa too, medicos observed the strike and took out a "silent protest march" to condemn the attack on some of their colleagues in West Bengal.
Similar reports came in from other states, including Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala.
In Kerala, long queues near OPDs were seen in several government hospitals in the early hours of the day. Some patients said they didn't know of the strike and had been waiting for hours.
The strike had a telling effect on medical services as people struggled to get treatment in private hospitals in Karnataka. However, government hospitals remained open following a circular by the Commissioner of Health and Family Welfare and there was a huge rush of patients at these facilities since morning.
A middle-aged man, who accompanied his ailing wife to a hospital in Hisar, Haryana, said, "Why should patients have to suffer like this? I have been waiting here for hours, but no one is giving any proper response. The central government must intervene in the matter, and patients across the country should not be made to suffer."
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Jun 17, 2019 21:21:51 IST