A poster announcing that the radiotherapy unit at NRS would be open on Sundays. (Amit Datta)
A group of doctors and nurses at Nil Ratan Sircar Medical College and Hospital has broken an institutionalised tradition of not working on Sundays so that patients who can’t come on weekdays for radiotherapy are not denied treatment.
Such has been the work culture (or the lack of it) in Bengal that even something as intrinsic to the medical profession as doctors working on holidays now calls for a celebration.
Only four patients may have turned up at the radiotherapy unit of the hospital on the first Sunday of the initiative but long queues are expected once word spreads.
Team Sunday includes as many as 15 doctors, two nurses, six technicians and as many Group D employees. They will work on Sundays by rotation every three weeks, benefiting those like Bangur resident Rekha Das, who has been visiting the hospital since 2004.
Weekday appointments are a problem for Rekha because her husband finds it difficult to get leave from office.
“I have visited NRS on my own on several occasions. And there have been instances of my husband accompanying me by putting his job at stake. The return journey by public transport after a dose of rays is draining and I often can’t manage alone,” said Rekha, 49.
Rekha, who seemed to have overcome cancer five years ago but suffered a relapse last September, “can’t thank the doctors enough” for the Sunday initiative.
“It’s a great relief to be able to escort my wife to the hospital without skipping work,” husband Utpal said.
Montu Dutta, 55, from Bhagabanpur in West Midnapore was also grateful to the doctors for making it possible for him to visit the hospital on a Sunday, “when the roads are so much less crowded”.
Amitabh Ray, who had worked at Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai before joining NRS, said letting go of a regular holiday was a small sacrifice for a greater cause.
Akashi Sadhukhan, 18, admitted to being “iffy” about working on a Sunday at first but soon realised that it was a part of a healthcare professional’s life.
“Once I understood what this would mean to so many patients, I happily agreed,” said Akashi, who lives in Naihati and is training to be a paramedic.
Subir Ganguly, the head of the department of radiotherapy at NRS, said it wasn’t easy to get everyone on board. “There was a bit of a resistance, mainly from the Group D staff. So the challenge was to explain the importance of this exercise to them. We also promised them a compensatory off,” he told Metro.
For those like sweeper Lakshmi Devi, the inspiration to serve proved to be a greater sop than the compensatory off.
“After Sir (Ganguly) spoke to us, I had no doubt in my mind that our responsibilities demand greater commitment,” added colleague Tarak Das.
The move to work on Sundays possibly took even the government by surprise. The health department’s approval came in four days.
“The radiotherapy OPD used to be overcrowded with over 300 patients seeking treatment on an average every day. If others are inspired by this, they are more than welcome,” said health secretary M.N. Roy.
So will the NRS radiotherapy unit be a model for others?
Sudipto Bose, the head of the department of gynaecology, said a meeting would need to be convened to see if the model could be replicated.