Off Duty – Doctors Strike in Bengal

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When people become doctors, they take an oath to serve and uphold ethical standards while practicing medicine. But what if they are under threat? What if they fear for their own lives when people become violent towards them? This is what happened last week in West Bengal. Here is how it unfolded:

10th June 2019

A 75-year old man passed away at the Nilratan Sarkar Medical (NRS) College. His relatives put his death down to medical negligence (failure to give proper care) and assaulted the junior doctors on the case. Both were severely injured.

11th June 2019

The next day, 50 intern doctors closed the gates of the hospital as a sign of protest against the assault and called on the Chief Minister, Mamta Banerjee, to provide better security for doctors.  To express their support for the doctors, the Doctors Forum said that they would stop all outpatient departments in government-run hospitals the next day but emphasised that emergency services would continue to work.

12th June 2019

Healthcare services in West Bengal were severely hit as doctors from hospitals across the state joined the protest. Despite assurances, many emergency departments also remained shut and caused chaos for patients. Meanwhile, doctors across the country said that they would also protest against the attacks on 14th June.

13th June 2019

Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee gave the doctors until 2 pm to call their strike off or face the consequences.

14th June 2019: The strike spread

Over 200 doctors across the state gave in their resignations as a form of protest. The All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Resident Doctors’ Association in New Delhi also did not work. The Indian Medical Association told its state branches to wear black badges as a sign of protest. Resident doctors in Maharashtra stopped working in outpatient wards and diagnostic departments  for 8 hours, and doctors in the Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad also joined the protests.

15th June 2019

The Chief Minister of West Bengal met with senior doctors and urged them to withdraw, but the talks ended with no result.

16th June 2019

The strike intensified, and doctors in several states said that non-essential services would stop for 24 hours from Monday, 17th June.

17th June 2019:

The doctors called off their strike after meeting the Chief Minister in the evening. Ms Banerjee said that she would ensure that doctors in the state get enhanced security. She also met with the two doctors who had been injured. She said that the police would place officers in all government hospitals for the protection of doctors, and that all CCTVs would be made operational. There would also be a special cell where people can complain, and that awareness programs would be undertaken to educate the public about not attacking doctors.

What now?

This is not the first instance of patients assaulting doctors in India. Early this year, there were separate cases of patients assaulting doctors in Delhi and Maharashtra. In a survey,

62% of doctors said that they could not see patients without any fear of violence, and that 57% had thought of hiring security staff at their workplace. The Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said that the Government would also look into a new law on doctors’ security.


Written by: Pereena Lamba. Pereena is a freelance writer, editor and creative consultant. She is also co-author of Totally Mumbai.

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