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Bengal doctors’ stir ends after medical mayhem across states

The doctors called off their strike after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee assured them of concrete steps for their security.

india Updated: Jun 18, 2019 11:01 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
West Bengal,Doctors,Doctors' strike
Hundreds of thousands of people were turned away from hospitals, clinics and laboratories on Monday as a week-long protest by doctors culminated in a nationwide strike of unprecedented scale before a truce was announced late in the evening.(Samir Jana/HT Photo)

Hundreds of thousands of people were turned away from hospitals, clinics and laboratories on Monday as a week-long protest by doctors culminated in a nationwide strike of unprecedented scale before a truce was announced late in the evening.

The breakthrough in the crisis, which began exactly a week ago with an attack on two doctors at Kolkata’s NRS Hospital, came after a meeting in the afternoon between Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and representatives of the group that launched the agitation demanding better working conditions, especially safety.

“We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the CM. After an enormous movement, the meeting and discussions with our CM met a logical end. Considering everything, we expect the government to solve the issues as discussed in due time,” one of the junior doctors representing the group said while reading out a statement in Kolkata.

Watch | Bengal doctors call off strike after meeting with Mamata Banerjee

A couple of hours earlier, Banerjee described Monday’s meeting as “positive and productive”, and people aware of the discussions said she had agreed to several key demands, such as forming a special complaints cell, and asking the state police to designate a nodal officer in every state-run hospital.

The agitation had been simmering since last Monday but gathered strength on Friday morning after Banerjee gave a short ultimatum to doctors to quit their strike or risk being sacked. The consequent anger resonated with doctors across the country, sparking protests that saw many turn up to work in helmets and with mock bandages. The Indian Medical Association (IMA) – one of the leading unions of doctors – announced the strike for Monday at all outpatient services.

Emergency and inpatient services were mostly working, though there were some reports of scheduled operations for hospitalised patients being delayed.

According to estimates gathered by HT reporters and figures claimed by unions, at least 200,000 doctors were part of the agitation across 20 Indian states. Patients in Bengal bore the brunt, while in at least five more states – Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Delhi – the protests were held by tens of thousands.

Also read: Rajasthan doctors join nationwide striking colleagues, boycott work

In cities in Karnataka and the National Capital Region (NCR) such as Gurugram, private establishments too joined the strike, deepening the impact on patients who normally have access to non-government facilities during such strikes, though these are invariably more expensive. “Max Healthcare strongly condemns any act of violence against doctors or other members of the medical fraternity and stands in solidarity with the protests,” according to a statement from the chain, one of NCR’s prominent corporate hospital networks.

“At the same time... IPD and emergency services, across all our hospitals remained functional. Doctors and other team members were, of course, free to extend support/show solidarity in other ways that they chose, including rescheduling their OPD consultations or elective surgeries,” the statement added.

A functionary of IMA, which claims to represent more than 300,000 doctors and half-a-million junior doctors, said “practically, the entire medical fraternity is on strike”.

“Everybody is on the street,” said Dr RV Asokan, the IMA’s honorary general secretary, according to Reuters.

Also read: Senior doctors, teachers at RIMS to stay away from IMA’s boycott call today

Patients, particularly from rural and semi-urban districts who rely on subsidised healthcare provided by government facilities, were hit the hardest. In several cities, large number of patients and their relatives were seen waiting outside hospitals as they were caught unaware of the strike. “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?” news agency PTI quoted an elderly patient as saying while waiting at the outpatient department at PGIMER, Chandigarh. In Tamil Nadu, doctors formed human chains in front of state-run medical colleges and hospitals in Chennai. Wearing black badges and sporting helmets, they held placards seeking protection.

(With inputs from HTC and Agencies at multiple locations)

First Published: Jun 17, 2019 21:23 IST