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6-min read

'Mamata Must Say Sorry': Protesting Doctors in Kolkata Demand CM's Apology, Amped Up Security

Medical professionals have their backs to the wall. On one hand, they face threats from the general public. Onthe other, they are being threatened by the government, says Dr Harjeet Singh Bhati.

Rakhi Bose | News18.com@theotherbose

Updated:June 14, 2019, 6:25 PM IST
'Mamata Must Say Sorry': Protesting Doctors in Kolkata Demand CM's Apology, Amped Up Security
The doctor's protests in Kolkata have entered Day 4 | Image credit: News18 Creative/Mir Suhail

Protests led by doctors and medical practitioners have been intensifying across the country since a medical practitioner was grievously assaulted by the kin of a deceased patient on Monday.

On Friday, the All India Medical Association called for a nation-wide strike of medical professionals and doctors to protest against the issue. However, according to the medical fraternity, this is not an isolated incident. Speaking to News18, IMA Secretary General, said that the this was just the last straw on the camel's back.

According to previous data collected by the IMA, 75 percent doctors across India have faced some form of violence at work.

"The medical fraternity has for long been seeking increased protection within hospital premises," Dr RV Asokan of the Indian Medical Association. The demands can be summed under two broad heads — increasing structural security of government hospitals and bringing in a centralised law for the protection of medical professionals.

Causes for assault range from skewed patient-doctor ratio and a lack of understanding of medical phenomena among patients and kin, often resulting in unruly situations for relatives of patients, many of whom have unrealistic expectations from doctors that implode in violent expressions when they are not met.

IMA is not the only one calling for a strike. Condemning the attack on the doctors at Bengal's NRS, Dr Sunil Gupta, Medical Superintendent, Safdarjung Hospital, said that the entire doctors' fraternity was under threat. "Resident doctors have called a one-day strike today in condemnation of what has happened in West Bengal," he said.

However, he added that emergency services will not be affected. "Resident doctors have assured me that no emergency services of the hospital will be affected. I held a meeting with the senior faculty and senior doctors who are not resident doctors. They will put extra power today. However, OPD will be partially affected."

'Increasing Structural Safety'

Increasing structural safety of hospitals is essential to reverse these situations, said Dr Asokan, "This encompasses things like having CCTV cameras inside hospitals, beefing up security personnel, restricted entry and improving patient-doctor relationships through behaviour therapy," he added.

IMA has for long been advocating behaviour therapy in hospitals to increase the safety profile of doctors and medical attendants.

"In most cases, conflict is caused due to the information gap between the patients and the doctors, ineffectual communication and a range of emotions felt by the relatives of patients," said Dr RV Asokan. "We have for very long been asking for a separate counseling department for all patients which will be dedicated to maintaining effective communication with these grieving, confused family members and offer them valuable insights and perspective," he said.

Though behaviour therapy is usually part of medical training and most doctors are trained in dealing with patients, the growing potency of mobs has created fear among the minds of the doctors. "It affects their work if they know that they will get beaten and abused in case of failure. In case of doctors, that kind of pressure could be fatal," Asokan said.

Centralised Protection Act for Medical Professionals

The second point about bringing in a centralised law to defend doctors and government run medical institutions is also one that is gathering steam. As of now, 19 states have passed and notified versions of Medicare Service Persons and Medicare Service Institutions (Prevention of violence or damage or loss of property) Acts in the past decade. However, RTIs have previously proved that these Acts have a very low conviction rate and face lack of proper implementation and following of due process.

According to Harjeet Singh Bhati, former President of Resident doctors Association, the need of the hour was for a centralised Act for doctors safety, he claimed that a draft of the same has been submitted to the Centre several times but nothing has so far moved.

"The government needs to realise that doctors getting assaulted is a genuine problem," Dr Bhati told News18. "No politicians have taken up the responsibility for protecting doctors. If we go to the union ministers, they say it's a state subject, state government in turn says it's a central matter," Bhati said, adding "We are only given consolations but not really heard".

Bhati said that several doctors have previously presented a draft Health Care Service Persons and Health Care Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property Act to the 2014 NDA government. The Act seeks to bring forth a centralised law in the IPC that punished violence against medical service providers and damage to property.

Bhati also stressed that the protests in Bengal are a direct outcome of government mishandling. "If Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee had reassured the doctors of swift action, country-wide protests could have been avoided," Dr Bhati said. He also said that medical professionals have their backs to the wall. On one hand, they face threats from the general public. On the other, they are being threatened by the government. Referring to Banerjee's ultimatum to protesting doctors to get back to work or face the axe, he said, "Instead of promising alarm systems in hospitals, institutional FIR and assurance of justice, the CM gave doctors the ultimatum to wrap up the protests". Dr Bhati added that this kind of behaviour from a CM was unacceptable.

"We have recently met the union health minister regarding the issue. While today's country wide strike was just a token strike, medical professionals across the country will go on an indefinite strike in case the Central Protection Act does not get accepted and implemented," Dr Bhati warned.

Bengal on the Boil

Meanwhile, the condition in Bengal is worsening with each passing day, with mass resignations of doctors across hospitals in the state. As of Friday, 67 medical professionals from RG Kar Medical College have given in their resignations. 67 have resigned from Birbhum District Hospital, 14 from Sagar Dutta Medical College in Kamarhati and 5 from North Bengal Medical College in Siliguri. Mass resignations have also taken place in NRS Medical College and Hospital with the Principal and Medical Superintendent cum vice principal Saibal Mukhereje and Sourav Chatterjee resigning from their respective posts on Thursday night.

At the time of writing, a high-level meeting of doctors and administrative staff was underway at NRS. Speaking to News18, third year medical student from NRS Aninda Mondal told News18 that the situation was volatile. "So far, we have some main demands. They include CM Mamata Banerjee personally visiting NRS premises and intervening in the matter and apologising to medical professionals," Mondal said. He also said that this was not an isolated incident and that such incidents of assault have taken place within NRS as well, though no action followed.

Key demands of protesting NRS doctors and students include Banerjee personally coming to NRS and explicitly explaining the situation to them as well as apologising for the delay in action. An apology has also been sought in response to her recent attacks on medical professionals in which she termed them "bahiragoto" (outsiders) and claimed they were working for the BJP on Thursday.

Medical professionals at NRS are also demanding that action be taken against the mob that assaulted the medical professionals on Monday, as well as investigation of the police personnel that were present on the day of the assault. "There were almost two cars full of security personnel. Why did they not intervene?" Mondal asked. Apart from this, one of the demands includes making a full disclosure of the various sections of the IPC that are being used to prosecute the accused.

Mondal also stressed on the demand for increasing security within hospital premises. "Last night, some unidentified goons tried to use mob pressure to enter the premises. They threw stones at the building. Assault of medical professionals has increased since the protests," Mondal said.

A mob attacked protesting doctors outside Burdwan Medial College on Wednesday, injuring three junior doctors and a medical student.

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