Hajira Begum,an elderly woman with a bent frame,left her home at Ompora,Budgam,in central Kashmir at eight in the morning to be in time for a check-up at the Medical OPD of the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital. She reached the hospital at around nine thirty and sat on a wooden bench outside the locked OPD till noon,waiting for the doctors to come. They never did.
As employees across the state struck work to press for their demands,SMHS Hospital,the valley’s top General Hospital,got paralysed.
Theatres remained shut,doctors were hard to find,paramedics,technicians,nursing orderlies and sweepers did not report for work leaving patients,and their attendants,in the lurch. Patients then mobbed the Casualty Ward which was spared from the strike.
“I spent two hundred rupees to get here in time but the money has gone waste,” said Hajira Begum’s son,Mohammad Ashraf,who accompanied her. “If the employees are on strike,what is the problem with the doctors? They only have to open this lock (on the OPD door) or if they don’t have the key,force it. But why should they? The strike is an excuse for them to take a holiday”.
The strike meant that most of the healthcare facilities of the hospital remained shut to the patients. Here is a list of the facilities that remained locked.
Indoor Central Laboratory that conducts major tests like Haemogram,ABG,Kidney function Test,Liver function test etc.
Both the surgical operation theatres were locked.
Dialysis Ward,where patients with kidney failure are put on dialysis or artificial kidney.
ENT Operation theatre.
Sigmiodoscopy machine that is used for investigation of the anal canal and rectum for malignancy,Haemorrids and ulcers.
Upper GI Endoscope that is used to detect Gastric Ulcer (Ulcer of the Stomach),Malignancy and for treating Black motion.
Lower GI Endoscope for investigation of the large intestines for cancer,ulcer and other diseases.
ECG (Electro-Cardiograph) Laboratory for diagnosing heart diseases.
Neuro-Physiology Laboratory for testing nerves of arms,brain and muscles for suspected paralysis.
Urine Lab,for conducting urine tests.
Injection Section in the Department of Medicine was also locked.
The Out Patient Departments (OPD) of these departments also remained locked: Medicine,Surgery,Dermatology,Psychiatry,Ophthalmology and Otorhinolaryngology (ENT).
Diagnostic Imaging Centre that includes MRI,Spiral CT Scan (that conducts a fast full body scan) and Mammography (for diagnosing breast cancer or lumps).
Ultrasonography machine was also under locks.
Even the Registration Office (The main ticket distribution counter) remained shuttered.
It was almost an emergency situation but the hospital administration was hardly bothered. The Medical Superintendent of the hospital was out of the state while an abnormally big lock dangled on the door of Deputy Medical Superintendent’s office.
The hospital employees,spearheaded by the Medical Employees Federation,shouted slogans and staged a protest demonstration in the main lobby of the hospital where Union leaders made speeches demanding the implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission,regularization of the service of adhoc and contractual employees and removing anomaly in the salaries between the SMHS staff and employees of the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS). But nobody took notice.
On the other hand,when patients and their attendants,after finding the OPD’s,operation theatres and testing facilities closed,staged a brief protest the administration immediately called the police to disperse them and herded them towards the already overcrowded Casualty Ward.
Principal Government Medical College,Dr Mushtaq Ahmad Shah said that as long as the strike continues,the administration can’t do anything. “Unless the staff resumes work,we can’t do anything. Even if doctors are available,they can’t work unless the rest of the hospital staff assists them,” Dr Shah said. “As long as the strike continues we will have to manage with only the Casualty Ward”.
That means more suffering for the patients as the strike will continue on Friday as well. “If our demands are not met,we may go on an indefinite strike,” the spokesperson of the Medical Employees Federation,Suhail Ahmad Lala said.