By Barun Das Gupta


A clash between junior doctors and relatives and friends of a patient who died in the government-run NRS Medical College and Hospital in Kolkata on June 10 night has brought the entire public health care system in West Bengal to a grinding halt. Doctors in all government hospitals in the State have gone on strike demanding adequate police protection for their safety. The strike has brought the medical fraternity all over the country in support of their West Bengal brethren.


What led to the clash? The initial narrative was that an aged patient, Mohammed Sayeed, died in the hospital in the evening after he was given an injection. The relatives of the dead patient alleged that the doctors had given a “wrong” injection. An altercation followed. The situation worsened after the doctors allegedly refused to issue a death certificate and release the body unless the patient party tendered an apology to the doctors. After further altercation, the relatives left the hospital, threatening that they would come back later.


They did come back in the dead of night in several trucks and motor bikes. The doctors allege that about two hundred people entered the hospital and started beating up the junior doctors and interns who were there. Several doctors were injured, including an intern who was badly hit on the head and grievously injured. He is recovering now. But the junior doctors of NRS Hospital went on a lightning strike demanding safety. Gradually, junior doctors in all government hospitals in the State went on “cease work”.


The initial narrative, however, changed following intensive police inquiries. According to a Kolkata daily, it has been found that the situation worsened after the doctors on duty refused to release the body and issue a death certificate. Examination of video and CCTV footage shows that from 11 in the night both the doctors and some people of the area the dead patient came from, were gathering in the road in front of the NRS hospital. Juniors came out of their hostels. Then a clash ensued outside the hospital near the tram track on APC Road. Footage allegedly shows doctors beating up people after felling them on the ground. The doctor who sustained severe head injury was attacked with brickbats and rods outside the hospital premises.


The result is that patients coming to hospitals for treatment are being turned away. Some patients in critical condition who needed immediate medical care died without treatment right in front of the closed gates of the hospitals. The dead included a baby and a pregnant woman. Naturally, the relatives of patients are asking the question that why they should be made to suffer for no fault of theirs. The government doctors are paid out of the tax-payers’ money. Can they refuse to treat patients day after day?


Doctors on their part say that quite often, proper treatment cannot be given to patients because of an appalling lack of infrastructure facilities, lack of adequate staff and even lack of medicine. They complain that Mamata has set up one medical college after another without the requisite infrastructure and essential medical staff which includes senior and junior doctors, house staff, nurses and class IV employees. A doctor complains the Government does not even have the money to buy batteries for the torch a doctor carries to examine the throat of a patient.


The doctors have other grievances, too. It is alleged that doctors not in the good books of the ruling party are denied leave for higher studies. Those out of favour are transferred out of Kolkata to district and sub-divisional hospitals, while those senior doctors who are also personal physicians of ministers or have the right political connections continue in the same posts in the city year after year. They are never transferred.


One view is that for all these reasons, resentment was growing among the doctors over a long period and the NRS incident lit the fuse. There is another view that points out that on several occasions in the past, doctor-patient clashes have taken place in both government and private hospitals but such isolated incidents never took the form of agitation since 1984. that has been witnessed this time, affecting all government hospitals across the State. Such incidents never evoked protests in the medical fraternity across the country starting with the reputable AIIMS hospital in Delhi.


They suggest that the chain of events in the last few days indicates an unseen hand which is coordinating and orchestrating the movement across the country. They point out that immediately after the clash at NRS hospital following the death of Mohammed Sayeed, West Bengal BJP leader Mukul Roy said that “one particular community” was responsible for the clashes. Since then, “one particular community” has been the target of a State-wide whisper campaign.


This, however, does not absolve the Chief Minister of her share of the blame. When the doctors demanded that she visit the NRS hospital and talk to them on the spot, she took the stand that she would not visit the hospital. The doctors would have to come to meet her. Meanwhile, she visited the SSKM Hospital, the best run government hospital in the State, but would not go to the NRS. This haughtiness of the Chief Minister precipitated the crisis even more as obduracy of one side evoked obduracy on the other side too.  


This is clear that Mamata is feeling severe political strains due to the continuing rise in her rival BJP’s strength. She could have solved the problem at the initial stage through deft handling, but she saw the hidden hand of BJP compliancy behind the agitation. One hopes that she takes proper lesson from this Doctors strike and corrects her approach.(IPA Service)


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