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ESI doctors rue glut of inferior drugs

After announcing a massive agitation in the city and the districts from March 11, the Indian Medical Association (IMA), parent body of doctors, has gone a step ahead, accusing the government of “pushing inferior-quality” drugs in ESI hospitals.

The IMA members, who have been clamouring for a hike in ESI doctors’ fees, said an acute shortage of life-saving drugs was crippling healthcare. Sinking their differences, both the city and state branch of the IMA have joined hands in their attack on the government.

“This is one issue that binds us together. The plight of the ESI doctors has been ignored for years,” said IMA city branch secretary R.D. Dubey.

“The list of drugs made available to ESI doctors is woefully inadequate. There are so many new drugs readily available in the market now, but the government is reluctant to introduce them in the ESI hospitals,” alleged IMA state branch secretary Moloy Patra.

A senior doctor of the ESI Hospital in Maniktala said he was left with no option but to prescribe drugs made by “lesser-known”, city-based pharmaceutical companies.

“Earlier, patients would be given drugs made by reputed firms only, but now only the products of the lesser-known companies are getting the nod,” he added.

Director of health services Prabhakar Chatterjee said he would look into the quality of drugs supplied to the state’s ESI hospitals.

The IMA has been asking the government to supply more drugs to government hospitals, too. “Due to the short supply, we have to depend heavily on volunteer organisations, who give free drugs to patients,” said IMA president Subir Ganguly.

The IMA has called for a strike from March 11 to kick off a series of demonstrations against the government for its apathetic attitude towards ESI doctors, who have not received their salaries for several months and are “hugely under-paid.”

The government, in a last-ditch effort to prevent the doctors from going on their agitation, has sent an SOS to the IMA, inviting it to sort out differences across the table on March 7.

But the IMA is in no mood to comply. IMA secretary Patra indicated that irrespective of the outcome of Friday’s meeting with ESI minister Sushanta Ghosh and a clutch of high-ranking health and labour department officials, the doctors would go ahead with their strike.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee took the initiative for Friday’s meeting, but the IMA representatives say several similar meetings in the past had not yielded any result.

“The chief minister had given us similar assurances in the past, but the government went back on its word each time. We don’t trust them at all,” complained Patra.

There are over 1,400 ESI doctors who have not been paid their salaries since July last year. The IMA has also asked for an immediate increase in their fees from Rs 60 per year per family to Rs 120 per year.

A senior government officer, on condition of anonymity, said that it was “impossible” to accept the IMA’s demands, as the government did not have enough funds to clear the arrears and also increase the fees of the ESI doctors.

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