Doctors’ strike cripples public healthcare in West Bengal: What happened

Doctors’ strike in West Bengal started after a junior doctor was hurt in clashes between a deceased patient’s family members and medical staff

Against the backdrop of violent clashes between the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and BJP, public healthcare in West Bengal has come to a standstill. Reason: doctors across Kolkata have been striking in protest against a recent assault on a junior doctor from NRS Hospital.

Although most doctors on strike are from government hospitals, private hospitals in the city are also likely to stand in solidarity with them.

A junior doctor at Nil Ratan Sircar (NRS) Medical College and Hospital in Kolkata was attacked by a deceased patient’s family members; following this, junior doctors erupted in protests, demanding better treatment and protection from the authorities.

They locked the gates of NRS Hospital and demonstrated with a sit-in.

Soon, resident doctors and other junior doctors across the state joined the demonstration and went on strike. For the last two days, they have all been protesting with the slogan, “Save Doctors, Save Nation”.

On Wednesday, June 12, outpatient facilities at NRS were shut between 9 am and 9 pm for the doctors’ protest. Emergency services are available, but the hospitals are shortstaffed.

Hundreds of patients gathered at NRS Hospital and others waiting to be treated haven’t yet been tended to.

News18 reported on individual patients—some who are pregnant or have cardiac illnesses and others whose loved ones need care for head injuries and cancer—and found that many are confused about the unrest, unaware of the conditions before they came for medical help, and are now stuck in the balance.

Assaulted junior doctor has a fractured skull

On Monday, June 10, a deceased patient’s family members assaulted Pariboho Mukerjee, a junior doctor at NRS Medical College and Hospital.

After 75-year-old Mohammed Shahid died at NRS Hospital, his family members argued with the medical staff, alleging that the hospital was negligent towards Shahid and also did not hand over his body on time.

The scuffle between the family members and doctors escalated, and soon, a mob of 100 people got involved. In the chaos, Mukerjee sustained a depressed frontal skull fracture after a brick was thrown at his head.

The 24-year-old doctor was admitted to the Indian Institute of Neurosciences for a minor surgery. Mukerjee is now stable and out of danger but still under observation.

How are authorities handling the strike?

The doctors have refused to work until the state government guarantees their safety. Even doctors in Calcutta Medical College and Hospital and Calcutta National Medical College have participated in the protests.

R G Kar Hospital, SSKM Hospital, and medical colleges in Murshidabad, Midnapore, North Bengal, and Bankura have all been agitating on behalf of the NRS junior doctors.

Even the Association of Resident Doctors’ of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) has joined the protest from New Delhi. Doctors outside of Kolkata also have been showing solidarity by wearing bandages and helmets to work.

CM Mamata Banerjee addressed a meeting on the issue and is reportedly monitoring the situation herself; however, she hasn’t yet visited the doctors or NRS Hospital, despite also being the state health minister.

Instead, Deputy State Health Minister Chandrima Bhattacharya tried visiting the hospital with police officials, but protesters heckled her.

BJP leader in Bengal Mukul Roy made comments communalising the issue. He said the attackers were from a “particular community”, implying that Muslims attacked Hindu doctors. He also said TMC party workers have been attacking the doctors.

Action taken so far

Bhattarcharya said four people related to the initial assault on the junior doctor have been arrested. She added that talks between the protesting doctors and the government are in progress.

Also involved in the talks is the West Bengal Medical Council (WBMC), an autonomous body comprising three government officials, seven elected teaching doctors, seven general medical practitioners, and three ex-officio members.

WBMC President Nirmal Maji said, “The chief minister has sent MoS Health Chandrima Bhattacharya, Police Commissioner Anuj Sharma, myself, and other senior officials to talk to them. We are looking into their demands; hopefully, the matter will get resolved quickly.”

The Ministry of Home Affairs, now under BJP President and Minister Amit Shah, has already issued a notice to the Bengal government for the lawlessness related to the recent clashes between TMC and BJP workers.

However, the TMC responded saying the situation was “under control” and that “firm and appropriate actions” were being taken.

Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius

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