The public health care system across West Bengal has come to a halt after doctors and support staff across the state started an indefinite cease work after an incident of violence at NRS Medical College Hospital in Kolkata. Trouble started when family members of a patient who died on Monday evening at state-run hospital assaulted junior doctors, leaving one of them with a critical head injury that had to be operated on.
As junior doctors of the hospital locked the main gate and sat for an indefinite cease work, the agitation spread to other medical college hospitals in West Bengal as well as district and even to some private hospitals. Most hospitals had shut down outpatient departments and other services leaving patients to fend for themselves.
At NRS both emergency and OPD services have been shut since Tuesday morning. At SSKM Hospital, National Medical College and Hospital, Calcutta Medical College and R G Kar Medical College, junior doctors joined the agitation and OPDs have been shut since Wednesday morning, though emergency was open. OPDs at medical college hospitals in Midnapore, Murshidabad, Burdwan, Bankura and other districts also remained shut.
Relatives of even in-house patients claimed services were affected. Relatives complained that scheduled medical tests for which they had waited for days or even months were not conducted. In medical college hospitals, which are also referral hospitals, critical care units ran normally. In some hospitals like NRS and Murshidabad, relatives of patients tried to block roads in protest but were removed by police.
District hospitals were seen a functioning, but the patient pressure at OPD was almost double of that of normal days. Majority of associations for doctors have supported the agitation including Joint Platform of Doctors, Medical Service Centre and Resident Doctors’ Association.
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Such a situation was waiting to happen in Bengal, which saw over 100 cases of attacks on doctors and medical staff in this year alone. The phenomenon is not new, spilling over from Left front regime to that of the rule of Trinamool Congress. While doctors and medical staff highlight a lack of security in state hospitals and medical colleges, relatives of patients complain of bad behaviour and lack of proper service.
Doctors allege that despite such incidents there is no proper security mechanism in place in hospitals. This is despite private security guards and a police outpost placed in most of them. Interestingly, at NRS Medical College Hospital, junior doctors took Taekwondo classes in 2017 as a means of self-defence following repeated attacks by irate relatives.
In most cases, arrests are not made despite miscreants vandalising hospital premises and beating up doctors and medical staff. In cases where arrests are made, the accused are released on bail soon after. Police officials on their part highlight the sensitivity of cases.
Doctors also point out a lack of respect and a deep sense of insecurity while handling a large number of cases daily. Senior doctors think juniors have as a result become shaky in handling emergency and critical cases.
Doctors point out that despite the development of infrastructure in the medical college hospitals, they are still inadequate to cater to the thousands who flock daily OPDs and emergency. There are over 15,000 beds in the 13 medical college hospitals and nearly 80,000 beds in government hospitals including primary health centres, super speciality hospitals, sub-divisional hospitals, district hospitals and others in Bengal.
Despite government upgrading hospitals in the districts, due to lack of proper manpower most cases including critical ones are referred to premier medical college hospitals in Kolkata. This adds to the burden on medical colleges which on average have over 96 per cent bed occupancy rate. Patients lying on the floor of wards are a common sight in almost all medical college hospitals. Patients complain that the dates of tests range from one month to six months.
It was in 2014 that the Trinamool Congress government announced free treatment including bed tests and even medicines in all hospitals which added to the influx, even from neighbouring states.