'Government does not pay heed to our demands until we strike'

Doctors say strike is the last resort and often triggered by attacks on them

Doctors’ going on strike is not uncommon. But with OPD services paralysed and patients being turned away from the OPDs at short notice raises questions of ethics.

Most doctors claim that the administration turns a deaf ear to their demands till the time they go on strike. Seeking appointments with the officials in the Health Department to communicate their problems itself is a “major challenge”.

A strike, they say, is the last resort and often triggered by attacks on doctors.    
“It may not be sound to go on strike from an ethical point of view. But the government does not pay heed to our demands. In a letter to Union Health Minister J P Nadda in February, we underlined our demands for better security measures and infrastructure in these hospitals. But nothing has changed so far,” says Dr Balwinder Singh, president, Federation of Resident Doctors Association (FORDA).  

“Three Delhi Police personnel have been deployed in the premises of Safdarjung Hospital since the strike at GTB, which will not serve any purpose in case of an emergency,” says Dr Singh.

The situation remains the same across other hospitals as well, he added.

FORDA had given a two-week notice that if the situation did not improve they would go on strike from March 2.

The strike was, however, deferred after the government sought more time to put things in place.

“When resident doctors go on strike, they do not stop senior consultants from attending to patients. Also, a notice is served beforehand. So this is not unethical,” says Dr Shashank Pooniya, general secretary, Resident Doctors Association, AIIMS.

“We want the administration to address issues like doctors working for 48 hours at a stretch, extra pay for more work hours and better hostel facilities,” says Dr Pooniya.
With any number of attendants coming in along with patients, female doctors are often molested.

“Several cases have been reported from the state-run hospitals in which female doctors were abused and molested. The spate of assault cases on doctors are also on the rise. The apathy of the administration in taking corrective measures forces resident doctors to go on strike,” says Dr S K Poddar, Honorary State Secretary, Delhi Medical Association (DMA). 

When doctors at GTB Hospital were on strike for five days, state Health Minister Satyendra Jain promised to deliver on their demands.

With a strike apparently being the only time when administration considers a dialogue, it is often seen by doctors as a “solution” to resolve their problems. 

Resident doctors said they have been trying to highlight the issues faced by patients and doctors alike at the hospital for the past six months, but in vain.

During the recent strike, with other prominent hospitals joining in with a one-day strike, few hospitals managed to run basic OPD services and pressed the consultants into emergency services. Resident doctors are considered the backbone of government hospitals.

In cases where RDAs give notices to the administration, it is important that the hospitals plan ahead so that “services go on uninterrupted”.

“In a case where Safdarjung doctors had gone on strike, the Delhi Medical Council had issued an advisory that doctors should not resort to strikes. Cases of medical negligence reported due to doctors going on strike is not acceptable. There should be no impact of the strike on emergency services,” says Dr Girish Tyagi, Registrar, Delhi Medical Council (DMC).

People for Better Treatment, an NGO, had earlier filed a PIL seeking action against doctors in Safdarjung Hospital alleging that the strike had resulted in several cases of medical negligence.

The recent strike also attracted flak from within the doctors’ community with a section of resident doctors saying strikes would not help resolve the issues.

“In turn, it will bring the entire community a bad name,” says a resident doctor at a civic-body-run hospital.

According to Dr K K Aggarwal, Honorary General Secretary, Indian Medical Association, the resident doctors cannot be blamed alone.

“In case of any medical negligence, the medical superintendents and the senior consultants also will be held responsible. If doctors are giving a notice before going on strike, the onus is on the hospital administration to arrange for alternative options,” says Agarwal.

“The Medical Council of India ethics guidelines clearly state the patient should not suffer under any circumstances,” he adds.

The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on Saturday issued a letter addressing the demands of the FORDA.

According to the letter, security services at hospitals will be improved and medical superintendents have been asked to resubmit the redevelopmemt plans of hostel infrastructure.

The issue of extra pay for additional work hours will be addressed too, it says.

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