The nation took a sigh of relief after doctors from Kolkata based Neel Ratan Sarkar (NRS) Medical College & Hospital of West Bengal announced to get back to work and called off their a week long strike. Thousands of doctors from across the country had called for a strike to support the doctor’s strike in West Bengal since June 10. It all began when two junior medical practitioners were assaulted by the relatives of the patient who died at a Government run NRS Medical College & Hospital in Kolkata on June 10, Monday. The doctors in Kolkata and West Bengal were on strike since June 11, Tuesday which had become a matter of concern for the state as well as the centre.
The strike soon took a political turn and came out to be termed as Mamata Banerjee versus Doctors, when she ignored the epicenter of the strike and visited another hospital called Seth Sukhlal Karnani Memorial Hospital whose doctors were also on strike. Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, however, made antagonistic statements which then added fuel to the fire.
Banerjee roared and gave an ultimatum to the striking doctors, “I will take strong action against anyone who does not resume work within four hours.” She also blamed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for trying to provoke doctors. “Of course, the BJP is trying to create communal tension, that doctors should not see Muslim patients, doctors should not see other patients, doctors will only see BJP patients,” alleged Banerjee, reported media reports.
Moreover, she seemed to suggest that it were doctors from outside Bengal who were striking. “Now junior doctors, not everyone is bad, those from Bengal love Bengal and work well,” she said, going on to complain that a system where some doctors do not know Bengali had to be changed. Banerjee then announced that she would weed out a quota that allowed students from outside West Bengal to study in the state’s medical colleges. Banerjee said that doctors should not treat patients only after seeing their last names. “This ultra-religious, fundamentalist madness is lighting pyres of terror,” she said. “Some people are provoking them.” she added.
The ultimatum which she screamed out on the doctors, however, followed mass resignations from doctors. According to the reports, about 150 doctors resigned in the state of West Bengal.
The strike, then, spread to other states as well. The Indian Medical Association (IMA) had called a four day nationwide strike from June 14, Friday and demanded the Union Government to pass a law to ensure that the doctors are protected from the violence.
IMA, however, demanded a comprehensive central law to deal 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), IMA said. IMA said in it’s statement that effective implementation of the central law has to be ensured by incorporating suitable clauses. Structured safety measures, including three-layer security, CCTV cameras and restriction of entry of visitors should be well defined and enforced uniformly across the country in all sectors, it said.
“Healthcare violence has it’s origin in high expectations, lack of infrastructure and inadequate human resources. Issues of medical profession involving a doctor-patient relationship, effective communication regarding the nature of illness and professional counselling play a part as well,” IMA mentioned in the statement.
“The IMA expects the government of India to provide for each of these components.” read IMA’s statement.
CM, Mamata Banerjee, however, has put forward 10-point security measures for safety of doctors in hospitals that would prevent a recurring act of attacks by relatives of patients. At a meeting, which was held on June 17 with 24 representatives of junior doctors, she said one of the key measures could be the creation of an interface between the doctors and patients that would take the pressure off the medics. She also suggested stationing a senior police officer at each hospital and streamlining the entry of patient’s attendants in the emergency section.
The striking junior doctors, who had initially rejected the government’s offer for talks, later indicated that they wanted a solution.
“We came here for discussion because we want a solution… We believe that you have good intentions. If possible, please take appropriate action against the unwanted incidents that have taken place,” the doctors said during the meeting.
“We will try to ensure that more than two people do not enter the emergency ward at a time… the news of anyone’s death or updates about the patient’s health will be communicated through proper channels and in a most humble manner,” Mamata Banerjee said, explaining the possible 10-point security measures.
“One officer from the police should be made the nodal officer responsible for all hospitals,” Banerjee said.
She also asked the administration and police officers, who were present at the meeting, to provide the doctors with the details of those who attacked the junior doctor at the NRS hospital and the action taken against them. This was one of the key demands of the doctors.
“We had police forces posted in hospitals, but now we need to streamline the entry of patient party in the hospital, so that we can minimise the chance of eventualities,” said Kolkata Police Commissioner Anuj Sharma, who was present at the meeting.
Moreover, the Chief Minister also urged the doctors to not take the law in their hands. She accepted the proposal of doctors who were demanding to set up grievance redressal cell in government hospitals.
Mamata Banerjee also mentioned that the government has taken adequate measures by arresting the accused. “We have arrested five people involved in NRS hospital incident,” she said.
Junior doctors demanded strong action against the police if they fail to take steps in connection with their security. Mamata Banerjee, however, agreed to this demand also. Meanwhile, Banerjee asked the officials present in the meeting to start a state-wide emergency number and email id to report an assault.
She assured the doctors that such incidents will not happen in future. “If such an incident takes place again, we will take stern steps,” she said.
Lastly, the doctors assured to withdraw the protest in West Bengal. And this is how the Mamata Banerjee versus Doctors stir came to an end on June 17.