If order is restored to one state-run hospital, chaos must reign at another.
After a series of demonstrations at SSKM Hospital over the past two days following the death of Susmita Biswas, it was the turn of R.G. Kar Medical College and Hospital to be the premise of protest on Monday.
More than 100 junior doctors — interns, house-staff and post-graduate trainees — struck work for a day to protest the lack of security in government hospitals. This was the fallout of the “assault on doctors” by a bereaved family on Sunday and took place even as chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was announcing the decision to turn hospitals into no-demonstration zones.
Things had turned ugly at R.G. Kar Medical College and Hospital on Sunday morning after 19-year-old Nikunja Das, admitted with jaundice, died. Family members and friends of the teenager allegedly blamed the on-duty junior doctors for the death, leading to a free-for-all. This led to the doctors refusing to hand over the body to the family.
On Monday morning, a group of 20 junior doctors went to meet principal Basudeb Banerjee, demanding better life-saving infrastructure at the hospital to bring down the death rate and also adequate security to doctors on duty. “Instead of trying to understand our problem, he blamed us for not behaving properly with the patient’s family. We told him that doctors, junior or senior, were demanding to know why criminal elements enjoyed free access to wards and could do what they wanted,” said a spokesperson for the junior doctors.
Later, all junior doctors left their assigned posts and thronged the principal’s chamber in a daylong gherao. “Although nothing had been scheduled, we had over 100 doctors joining in the protest. We have given the principal an ultimatum, following which we will launch a bigger strike,” the spokesperson added.
The R.G. Kar medicos found support from the chief minister, who said: “People who beat up doctors should be prosecuted under law.”
The day passed relatively quietly at SSKM Hospital, with director of medical education C.R. Maity paying a visit for “an independent probe” into the circumstances leading to the death of Susmita Biswas.
Health department officials said prima facie evidence indicated negligence on the part of doctors in the emergency department. The fact that Susmita’s oxygen mask was removed is being viewed as “a gross act of negligence”, officials added. Maity later said that once he receives the report, the guilty will be punished.
State health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra, meanwhile, admitted that the clear Supreme Court directives about admitting moribund patients at any cost should not be flouted. On Monday, most patients arriving at the emergency wing were admitted, following express orders from Writers’ Buildings.
State CPM secretary Anil Biswas gave a clean chit to Mishra and ruled out his resignation. “But there should not be a single death due to negligence on the part of doctors or any other hospital staff. We will take strong action against anyone found neglecting any patient,” warned Biswas.
Monday also found advocate Sreemoyee Mitra filing a petition before a vacation bench, demanding a CBI inquiry into the deaths of Shabana Parveen, Susmita Biswas and the discovery of saline bottles beyond expiry date at SSKM Hospital. She demanded that a compensation of Rs 10 lakh each be awarded to the parents of Shabana and Susmita.
The state human rights commission also got into the act on Monday, initiating a suo motu inquiry into Sunday’s incident at R.G. Kar Medical College and Hospital and Susmita Biswas’ death at SSKM Hospital last Friday. The rights panel has demanded two separate reports from the state government on the hospital deaths.