Kolkata: In a major relief for lakhs of patients across the state, junior doctors called off their strike on Monday following a meeting with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at the state secretariat.
The junior doctors made the announcement at the NRS Medical College and Hospital, the epicentre of the agitation that spilled over to other cities in India, in the evening after receiving a copy of the minutes of the meeting held at Nabanna.
"The meeting and discussions with the chief minister met a logical end and hence, we end the cease work. We give the CM time to carry out the decisions that were taken at the meeting. We want to resume work as soon as possible, but there are some technical aspects. This is a movement of the entire medical fraternity, seniors and juniors," said a spokesperson of the striking doctors.
The chief minister welcomed their decision and promised to look into all their demands that were discussed at the meeting.
“We appeal to the people to hear what the CM said. We are also humans. The CM spoke about a grievance cell and zero tolerance towards attack on doctors. She said that within three days our demands will be addressed in written. We have faith in our chief minister. Since the CM is taking some time, we appeal to senior doctors to reconsider (their resignations),” the spokesperson said.
“We spoke about infrastructure in rural hospitals. We want to thank the chief minister for giving us some time. We also thank the common people... We also seek forgiveness from them who have suffered the most. The movement was for the people. You (public) will understand once you see the details of the meeting,” he added.
The doctors have been protesting against an attack on two junior colleagues at the hospital by family members of a patient over allegations of negligence a week ago.
One of them, Pariboho Mukherjee, suffered critical injuries in the head and is undergoing treatment at the Institute of Neurosciences, Kolkata. His condition is stated to be stable. The chief minister met him at the hospital later in the evening.
The junior doctors also thanked the chief minister for visiting Mukherjee at the hospital. "We are happy for that. She had promised us and went to see Pariboho at the hospital," the spokesperson said.
Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi welcomed the doctors’ decision and end of a stalemate that had gripped the state and had spilled over to other states. He appreciated the initiative taken by the chief minister and the junior doctors to resolve the impasse.
Earlier in the day, the chief minister met representatives of the striking doctors and agreed to meet two representatives from each medical college at Nabanna. West Bengal health secretary, MoS Chandrima Bhattacharya and other state officials were present in the meeting, besides 31 junior doctors.
“Here, we are present to look into your demands. I would like to clarify that discussions and resolutions taken in this meeting shall be recorded and adequate measures will be taken,” she said, while promising to visit NRS Medical College and Hospital once they will formally announce to call off their strike.
Replying to one of the junior doctors who demanded a strong message to those who attacked doctors, Banerjee said, “I agree that there should be a zero-tolerance towards such assaults. We have already taken action in this case. There are departments where you can approach when such cases take place. Sometimes, such incidents happen. Families of patients, sometimes, indulge in such acts out of anger or frustration. We have to make them know that they can’t act this way in future.”
She also suggested putting up collapsible gates at emergency wards in hospitals to prevent entry of a large number of the people and restricted the number of family members and friends for each patient to two.
Nodal officers would also be appointed at all government-run hospitals who would be in charge of public relations. They would be responsible for taking care of eventualities at night, as well.
In the context of threat to junior doctors and complacent attitude of policemen deployed at hospitals, the CM asked Commissioner of Police Anuj Sharma to remove errant officers and take stern action to send a message.
“Local police station officers should be more active. I have seen there are officers who are not doing their job properly. On Sunday, I suspended an officer. I will look into the matter,” Banerjee said at the meeting.
After the junior doctors demanded proper functioning and visibility of the grievance redressal cell across all government hospitals in West Bengal, the chief minister asked Principal Secretary, Health, Rajiva Sinha (who was also present in the meeting) to look in to the matter immediately.
One of the students said that there have been cases, when political leaders have entered the hospitals and created problems. Banerjee said, “I am aware of it and will soon issue a circular in this regard.”
She also promised to strengthen the ‘Rogi Kalyan Committee’ after junior doctors complained of serious irregularities in the functioning of the department. The doctors said they work under tremendous fear and insecurity and demanded that the government look into their safety aspect with upmost priority.
The chief minister said, “We will do whatever it is required to improve the functioning of the hospitals as far as security of all the staff and doctors are concerned. Also, I would like to ensure that no false cases are registered against any doctor (who took part in the strike in the last seven days).”
Banerjee asked health department officials to immediately engage machines and equipment which have been bought but were yet to be sent to the hospitals. She told Sinha, “Please do this immediately. These machines will be damaged. Also, there should be a system to alert hospital staff and policemen, in case an emergency situation arises in future. Besides, I am directing the DGP to initiate a toll-free number for hospitals.”
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, meanwhile, said the Centre had asked states to frame laws for the protection of doctors as a nationwide strike called by the fraternity in solidarity with their West Bengal colleagues crippled health services.
The apex medical body, Indian Medical Association, has demanded a comprehensive central law in dealing with violence on doctors and healthcare staff in hospitals. Security measures and the determinants leading to violence should also be addressed, it said in a statement.