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Citing Covid, Govt urges doctors to end stir; they ask for firm assurances

“Yesterday, during the protest, if there was any misbehaviour on the part of the police, I express my regret. Right now, Covid-19 crisis is going on and to ensure that our citizens do not suffer, I urge that the doctors join their duty,” Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said.

Written by Anonna Dutt | New Delhi |
Updated: December 29, 2021 7:07:16 am
Protesting resident doctors at Safdarjung Hospital, in New Delhi on Tuesday. (Express photo by Abhinav Saha)

Despite the Union Health Minister expressing “regret” for any misbehaviour on part of the police” and urging resident doctors to rejoin work amid rising Covid cases, the protesting doctors Tuesday appeared to be in no mood to relent.

After a face-off with the police and being detained twice on Monday, the resident doctors had planned to march from Safdarjung hospital to the health ministry on Tuesday noon. Resident doctors from across medical college-associated hospitals in the city as well as from other states reached Safdarjung hospital on Tuesday morning, amid heavy police deployment. All the gates of the hospital were also barricaded.

Before the march could begin, Union Health Minister Dr Mansukh Mandaviya called for a meeting with the representatives of the resident doctors’ association.

“For many days, the resident doctors were protesting to expedite and immediately conduct counselling for NEET-PG. The case is subjudice in the Supreme Court and hence we haven’t been able to conduct counselling, but there is a hearing on January 6. Before that, the government of India will submit its report and I hope that counselling starts immediately after,” said Mandaviya after the meeting with at least six RDA members, including Dr Manish Kumar, president, Federation of Resident Doctors’ Association (FORDA).

Mandaviya added, “Yesterday, during the protest, if there was any misbehaviour on the part of the police, I express my regret. Right now, Covid-19 crisis is going on and to ensure that our citizens do not suffer, I urge that the doctors join their duty.”

The doctors were stopped at ITO on Monday during their march to the Supreme Court. Fifty doctors were detained and later released. The doctors alleged they were manhandled by the police. At night, when the doctors decided to march to the health minister’s residence, over 2,500 of them were again detained at Sarojini Nagar police station.

The counselling for NEET-PG admissions is pending because of a clutch of cases in the Supreme Court regarding the newly introduced quota for the economically weaker sections. The doctors have been demanding that the Supreme Court fast-track the hearing and that the union health ministry expedite the submission of a report on the chosen criteria of R 8 lakh annual income for eligibility of the quota.

However, even after the meeting with the health minister, many resident doctors were unwilling to call off the strike. After a quick consultation with various resident doctors’ associations after returning to Safdarjung hospital, Dr Manish Kumar announced: “The strike has not been called off as of now. If someone thinks that a decision like this will be taken behind closed doors, that will not be the case. We will take a decision after consulting with everyone.” The announcement was met with resounding cheers of resident doctors who sat outside the hospital’s emergency, sloganeering amidst the drizzle. A final decision on continuing the strike is likely after 8 pm when all the resident doctors’ associations will meet.

After the announcement, the resident doctors shouted, “Ek do, ek do, counselling ki date do.”

Doctors who have completed their MBBS degree and internship have to appear for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test – Postgraduate (NEET-PG) test to study for a particular specialisation such as medicine or surgery. This test usually takes place in January but in November 2020, the National Board of Examination that conducts the test postponed it until further notice in view of the Covid-19 situation.

It was to be held in April but was further pushed to September, when it was finally conducted. However the counselling and admission process for the PG students, who work as junior residents alongside their training, is yet to happen.

The junior residents, along with those who have completed their PG course and are appointed as senior residents, form the backbone of the services offered at big medical college-associated hospitals across the country. With those having completed their three years of PG training moving on to jobs as senior residents at the same or other hospitals, the lack of an incoming batch has resulted in one-third staff shortfall across such hospitals.

To make up for the shortfall, the existing doctors have been working between 100 to 120-hour weeks at the height of the pandemic. The doctors say that they are exhausted and hence are demanding that the counselling be conducted at the earliest, especially with another wave of Covid-19 looming.

The delays have also cost nearly 45,000 medical students one year of their education, and they are still waiting to join the workforce, say the protesting doctors.

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