Junior doctors in West Bengal called off their strike on Monday evening ending the seven-day standoff, between them and the State government over lack of security at the workplace.
The truce was achieved following a two-hour meeting with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who assured them of improved security.
Doctors in West Bengal have been protesting since Tuesday last over the assault on two junior doctors at NRS Hospital in Kolkata by the relatives of a patient who died at the hospital.
Representatives from medical colleges held a meeting with Ms. Banerjee at the State Secretariat, with the Minister agreeing to live coverage of the parleys.
“We are satisfied with the meeting,” said representatives of the doctors. Later at night Ms. Banerjee visited the injured junior doctor, Paribaha Mukherjee, admitted to a private hospital.
The Chief Minister has asked the police to appoint nodal officers for security of doctors at all government hospitals in the State and added that no doctor has been booked by the State government.
“Also the entry and exit gates [of hospitals] will be manned properly; CCTV cameras will be made functional. The police will be stationed in good numbers in the hospitals. A nodal officer will have all the information and coordinate with the doctors when they approach him with queries,” said Ms. Banerjee.
She added that every hospital should have a functional grievance cell that should be properly visible and manned round the clock. “But it is important to also educate the people that the doctors who are under pressure cannot be attacked. We need to trigger mass awareness programmes and [I] would ask the [Health] department to look into this,” the Chief Minister said.
The representatives of the joint forum of junior doctors also sought exemplary punishment for those involved in assault on doctors at the NRS Medical College and Hospital on June 11.
The entire team of the Chief Minister including chief secretary, health minister, home secretary to the chiefs of the police administration and health department officials were present at the meeting. Ms Banerjee instructed the officials to give “priority” to the safety issues of the doctors.
At the meeting doctors highlighted that “the political leaders often build up pressure” to admit patients which escalates the crisis. To which the Chief Minister said that “proper action has to be initiated to restrict such activities by the political leaders.”
“There has to be a system and such requests cannot be entertained,” she said. Political leaders will be asked to act responsibly, she indicated.
New law on doctors' security?
Union Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan said on Monday that the Centre has decided to study the possibility of a new law on doctors’ security.
“I have written to all Chief Ministers including Mamata Banerjee about the security of medical staff at the workplace. We will also look at bringing in fresh law at the Centre.”
The Indian Medical Association (IMA), welcoming the “co-operation of the State government said the week-long strike in Kolkata was a sign of the desperate need for stringent laws to protect the doctors.”
Earlier in the day doctors across India observed a one-day strike in solidarity with their West Bengal colleagues, withdrawing non-essential medical services, including outpatient department services, for 24 hours starting 6 am on Monday. Hospitals, however, maintained emergency, casualty and ICU services.
“We demand a comprehensive law to deal with violence on doctors and healthcare staff. 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.
Doctors in various parts of the country, including Maharashtra, Bengaluru, Tamil Nadu, Kannur, Guwahati and Pune, participated in the protest with patients being made to run around for medical help. Several doctors wore black badges to work, with many stating that they refrained from joining the strike, owing to the sheer number of patients seeking immediate attention. At the All India Institute of Medical Sciences-Mangalagiri doctors extended solidarity with their peers in Kolkata by wearing black bands on their arms. AIIMS-M medical superintendent Rakesh Kakkar said the outpatient and emergency services were running to serve the patients.
Doctors on strike maintained that it was the “ high expectations of patients and their relatives that is now making doctors do what they call defensive practice.