Resident doctors on strike since Monday called off their stir late Tuesday night, the umbrella union Forda said. On a day of franrtic activity and negotiations as the strike by by 2,000 resident doctors in 20 hospitals ran into the second day, the Delhi government invoked ESMA (Essential Services Maintenance Act) for a period of six months. After a meeting on Monday evening, government sources said doctors had been given time till 11 am on Tuesday to join work, but with only some getting back to work in emergencies, a decision was taken to invoke ESMA.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said in a series of tweets soon after the notification, “We have agreed to all demands of docs. I personally intervened. Yet they are not calling off strike. Why? What else is left now. Patients suffering. I appeal to docs to return to duty. I am their biggest well-wisher. If they have more demands, we will agree to them also, but causing inconvenience to public is wrong. We have been forced to invoke ESMA. If they still don’t return, then in public interest, we will be left with no option but to take harsh steps.”
The notification says that the indefinite strike has led to “disruption of medical services causing inconvenience and hardship to the general public”.
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After ESMA was invoked, health minister Satyendra Jain held a meeting with medical superintendents of all Delhi government hospitals and directed them not refuse any patients. He has asked senior doctors to hold OPDs and conduct surgeries. A source who attended the meeting said, “We tried to bring to the minister’s notice that it was not possible to conduct emergency surgeries and procedures without the resident doctors, but we were told no patient should be refused treatment, and senior doctors should be put on duty even during the night.”
With the strike including doctors in central government and municipal hospitals in Delhi, representatives of the doctors said even if they were “forced” to recall the strike in Delhi government hospitals, it would continue in other hospitals.
Umbrella union FORDA’s president Dr Pankaj Solanki told The Indian Express soon after the ESMA notification that the doctors’ representatives were meeting Union health officials in the evening.
Earlier in the day, Dr Anshuman Raheja, spokesperson for FORDA, said the strike would continue till the doctors’ demands were “actually” met”. “We have gone through the minutes of the meeting with the Delhi government, and taken into account the feedback from our representatives who attended the meeting. The government is only repeating the same promises it repeated in February, nothing has been done actually. Till our problems are resolved, the strike will continue,” Raheja said. The Delhi Medical Association said it is supporting the strike.
The doctors are demanding increased security in hospitals in the wake of growing incidents of angry patients’ kin roughing up doctors, fixed duty hours for resident doctors, availability of drinking water and better conditions in doctors’ duty rooms.
After the meeting with doctors on Monday, health minister Satyendra Jain told The Indian Express on Tuesday, “We are looking into posting home guards and police personnel in hospitals. We have accepted all their demands, just or not. Some will take time to complete, but that cannot be a reason for doctors to stop work.”