SERVICES IN the northern region’s premier health institute — PGIMER — were hit Monday as more than 1,200 resident doctors went on a flash strike after one of them was assaulted by a patient’s attendant. The patient, a 72-year-old woman from Ludhiana, died during treatment late Sunday evening.
The strike affected thousands of patients who came to PGIMER OPDs from various states including Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir.
The situation looks set to continue as talks between hospital administration and doctors on Monday failed to end the strike. PGIMER has threatened to act against the doctors if they do not return to work on Tuesday.
The hospital authorities announced that OPD registration would close at 9 am on Tuesday in view of the ongoing strike. On a normal day, OPD registration continues until 11 am.
It was probably for the first time in the history of PGIMER that its main entrance gates were shut for more than two hours late Sunday night and patients were sent back by the resident doctors. However, some of them could gain access to PGIMER emergency from alternative entries. It was only when the doctors were persuaded back inside the emergency OPD for talks that the gates were opened.
Besides a demand for their security, the resident doctors raised several other issues regarding their daily duties asking the PGI administration to implement all those demands instantly.
“The strike continues because our demands have not been completely fulfilled. The administration has only given us assurances rather than fulfilling our demands,” said Dr Amit Sharma, vice-president, Association of Resident Doctors, PGIMER.
There are nearly 1,500 resident doctors, both junior and senior in PGI. Barely 150 of them, mostly senior resident doctors, attended to patients throughout the day on Monday. Strengthening of security with a police post and armed security in emergency OPD, triage system to classify patients based on sickness levels, appointment of phlebotomists for sampling, alternative arrangement for report collections and limiting maximum number of patients admitted to emergency OPD and stopping unnecessary referrals were some of the prominent demands raised by the protesting doctors.
After Sunday night’s chaos, patients who reached hospital early in the morning on Monday and stood in queues for OPD registration were informed that no registration cards shall be made after 8.30 am. Many of them had to return without treatment. “I left home at 6 am and I was not even aware that we will face such harassment,” said Sukhbir Singh, a Himachal Pradesh resident. Singh, who was lying on a stretcher near OPD block, had an appointment at the ortho department after he underwent a surgery last month.
“How can the doctors act like uneducated people? They are beating plates which is very shocking,” said Kuldeep Singh, a resident of Ludhiana. “My mother is unwell. Who will be responsible if something happens to her?”
PGIMER issued a statement in the evening that read, “Resident doctors went on indefinite flash strike on Monday, following which it was decided to reduce the OPD registration timings at the institute. Registration timings of Radiotherapy OPD dealing with cancer patients was not reduced. 4,110 patients were registered in different OPDs of the institute out of which 1,124 were new patients.” However, on average, PGIMER records around 10,000 patients in various OPDs on a daily basis.
The PGI authorities added that ICU emergency and trauma services functioned normally on Monday.
PGI campus is a “silence zone”. Showing no concern for thousands of patients, the doctors carried out a protest march on the roads of the campus, including outside cardiac centre, shouting anti-PGI administration slogans and beating steel utensils.
Regarding inconvenience caused to thousands of patients in the last 24 hours, PGI director Yogesh Chawla said, “We shall investigate it. We shall see how many ambulances returned on Sunday night when the main gate of the institute was closed by the protesting doctors. The moment we came to know of it, we persuaded the protesting doctors not to indulge in such a thing and got the gates reopened.”
Asked what action would be taken against the doctors for creating “indiscipline” inside the campus, head of the Medical Microbiology Department, PGI, Dr Arunaloke Chakrabarti, who was present with the director, blamed “few elements who are disturbing the area”. “We are trying to locate them. This is not PGI’s culture,” he said.
Dr Chawla said if the residents continued the strike, “disciplinary action would be initiated as per rules”.
Sources in the administration said all the heads of departments would meet on Tuesday morning to discuss the measures needed to be taken in view of the strike. A source said that the administration had also decided to deduct the salary of the protesting residents for the number of days they would not work.
In a related development, the Chandigarh Police arrested Harpreet Singh, who had assaulted resident doctor Mani on Sunday night that led to this protest. However, Harpreet and his family have also lodged a formal complaint of medical negligence against Dr Mani and other doctors holding them responsible for his mother’s death. The police have lodged a DDR.
The police also registered a case in another incident in which a resident doctor was allegedly beaten up by an attendant at PGI recently.