Sapra Begum, brought to Lok Nayak hospital with pain and swelling in her abdomen, lay gasping on a stretcher outside the emergency room for an hour before she died on Thursday. A day-long strike by resident doctors in Delhi over pay demands ensured there was no one to ease the 70-year-old’s suffering.
“We kept waiting but no one attended to us. They suggested we go to the OPD but she passed away before we could take her inside,” said Rehana, her daughter-in-law.
The one-day strike by 20,000 resident doctors of government hospital paralysed public health services across Delhi, though the hospitals claimed otherwise. The All India Institute of Medical Sciences, which wasn’t part of the stir, saw a 25-30% jump in patient load as a result. “We deputed extra staff and tried to not turn away patients who came to us,” said a senior administrative official.
Despite Sapra dying without treatment, the chief medical officer at Lok Nayak said, “We are not refusing treatment to critical patients, we are just asking the ones who are stable to come back to the OPD tomorrow. The strike affected the emergency ward very little, we received 30% more patients today.”
At Dr Ram Manohar Lohia hospital, a spokesperson claimed it was a normal day with 4,913 people attended to in OPD and 236 in emergency.
But the reality was different. “The consultants and senior doctors are trying their best but without the residents, the hospital will at best give medicines and first aid. Forget routine surgeries, even emergency surgeries cannot be performed right now,” said a doctor on condition of anonymity.
“For emergency surgeries, patients will have to go to AIIMS, at least 20 minutes away.”
At Safdarjung hospital, across the road from AIIMS, it was the same story. The medical superintendent said services were running normally even as a large contingent of its doctors joined a march from Lady Hardinge Medical College to Nirman Bhavan, which houses the health ministry.
The residents — striking under the banner of Federation of Resident Doctors’ Association — are protesting the reduction in non-practicing allowance from 25% to 20% by the 7th pay commission. They are demanding it be increased to 40% and be merged with basic salary. They also want additional allowances to cover telephone bills, over time and night shifts and hazard pay for diseases contracted while on duty.