The seven-day-old strike by junior doctors and ‘cease work’ in West Bengal medical colleges and hospitals was called off Monday evening after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee accepted their demands and told a delegation that “we are proud of our doctors”, and any attack on them “will not be tolerated”.
The strike, triggered by an attack on a doctor by the family of a patient who died at the NRS Medical College and Hospital (NRSMCH) in Kolkata, saw doctors across the country joining the protests and observing a shutdown Monday in response to a call by the Indian Medical Association (IMA).
A delegation of 31 junior doctors and medical students met the Chief Minister for nearly 90 minutes at the state secretariat Nabanna. “I have accepted all your suggestions. I will request you to return to work. We are proud of our doctors. Attacks on doctors will not be tolerated. Not all relatives of patients are bad, only a small section gets agitated after a mishap. We will try and prevent such incidents. We will take everyone into confidence. Even in 0.1% cases of such incidents, police will take strong action. I will shortly visit the doctor who is injured. I feel bad that I could not visit him,” Banerjee said at the end of the meeting — she later visited the injured doctor, Paribaha Mukherjee, at the Institute of Neurosciences Kolkata.
The juniors doctors, on their return to NRSMCH from Nabanna, released a statement: “We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the Chief Minister. We withdraw our cease work. Our meeting met with its logical end. We also extend gratitude to the patients, common people, intellectuals, senior and the medical fraternity.”
As the doctors celebrated, Governor Kesari Nath Tripathi, in a statement released by Raj Bhavan, said: “The Governor is happy that amicable settlement has been arrived at the meeting held today between the CM and doctors. He appreciates the initiative taken by the Chief Minister and also the junior doctors to resolve the impasse. He hopes that the doctors will take up the work of care and treatment of patients as per the high ideals of their noble profession, and also that the state government will take all steps committed in the meeting expeditiously.” The meeting, telecast live by the state government on a request from the protesting junior doctors, discussed issues ranging from problems of security to infrastructure in state-run hospitals. After she heard out the doctors, the Chief Minister gave instructions and suggestions to improve working conditions.
The government decided to boost the security mechanism in hospitals, and create awareness among the masses against assault on doctors. Banerjee suggested installation of collapsible gates in the emergency section, and restricting entry to only two members of a patient’s family.
She suggested that public relations officers work in three shifts in medical college and district hospitals. She also asked the administration to prominently display the patient grievance cell signboards in hospitals. She asked police to act swiftly in cases of attacks on doctors. A junior doctor at the meeting said: “We live and work in fear in hospitals. We tried to send you a message which did not reach you properly. We understand that people are suffering, but for a long time we have been facing assaults.”
Banerjee told them: “You can all help police and the health department to draw up a security plan. I suggest we put collapsible gates in emergencies, and only allow two persons inside with a patient. Proper public relations officers working in three shifts should be placed. They should talk to relatives, inform them if there’s a death and explain the cause.”
“The patient grievance cells should be properly placed. And please put up big signboards in three languages,” she told administrative officers after interns said that usually such cells are housed under staircases or in the rear of the hospital building. She said representatives of junior doctors will be included in future meetings regarding hospital administration. Acknowledging that political leaders sometime cause trouble inside hospitals, she instructed police to take steps.
“We are also working on an alarm system so that the police are informed immediately when such an incident happens. Police should have a nodal officer to look specifically into security at hospitals and a toll-free number which can be called in case of an incident. I ask the police to make sure they act in time when an incident happens. One should alert all police stations about this,” she said.