The Indian Medical Association, the country’s largest body of doctors, has said its 3.5 lakh members and 8 lakh associates would go ahead with their 24-hour suspension of non-emergency medical services from 6am on Monday in solidarity with the striking junior doctors in Bengal.
Despite Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s assurances of meeting the agitators’ demands, an IMA representative said she should “reassure that she has had a change of heart” by visiting the protesting doctors at Calcutta’s NRS Medical College and Hospital.
This demand was made shortly before the protesting doctors left the choice of venue to Mamata.
IMA honorary secretary-general R.V. Asokan told reporters here that the strike call was meant for all the doctors affiliated to the body, from public and private institutions, across India. “We expected the situation to be resolved but it has not. We have no choice left,” he said.
Emergency and casualty services have been kept out of the strike for now, with IMA officials saying an “action committee” would decide future action.
“She (Mamata) threatened (the striking doctors) and said, ‘Withdraw your strike in four hours’. After this no delegation has met her, she has not taken any demand letter from us nor spoken to us…. We demand that she comes to the venue and talk…. It will reassure doctors that she has had a change of heart,” former IMA president Vinay Aggarwal said at the Delhi news conference.
The strike call was initially given on Friday, and IMA officials had expected progress on their twin demands for a national law against attacks on medical staff and for the resolution of “the crisis in Bengal”.
However, despite several meetings with officials, including Union health minister Harsh Vardhan, there has been no tangible gain, Asokan said.
The association has demanded three layers of security, CCTVs and restricted entry at all health facilities, apart from the tackling of the “determinants of violence”.
“Provisions for adequate infrastructure (and) human resources have to be there because ultimately it boils down to the number of patients a doctor can attend (to),” Asokan explained.
“Limiting the workload of each doctor” is crucial, he said, “so that there is an effective communication that develops between the doctor and the patient”.
Although the IMA’s primary demand for legislation hinges on the Centre, which has been sitting on a draft law since 2017, it was Mamata who bore the brunt of the doctors’ anger on Sunday.
Harsh Vardhan had on Saturday asked the states to pass laws based on the draft. Some 19 states have such laws in place but the IMA wants a national law to bring uniformity in enforcement.
“Whether it’s the Bengal issue or the countrywide hartal (strike), on both issues the way you (the media) have given us coverage — and given the news to every citizen in every corner of the country that doctors want to serve you, they also want security — and it’s because of a small, arrogant chief minister’s behaviour that the strike is dragging on for so long,” Aggarwal said.
“The way honourable madam Mamata Banerjee went to hospitals on the first day of the strike and gave shape to the strike, and the way she attempted to give the strike a communal angle, and the way she reprimanded those doctors — was unnecessary.”
Mamata had visited the SSKM premises on Thursday, the third day of the strike, and suggested the agitators included “outsiders”. It was Bengal BJP leaders who highlighted that those who had assaulted doctors at NRS, triggering the agitation, were from “a particular community”.
Asokan defended the IMA’s role on the plight of the doctors suspended following the deaths of children in Gorakhpur’s Baba Raghav Das Medical College in 2017 after its oxygen supplies ran out, and the suicide of tribal doctor Payal Tadvi in Mumbai this year.
He said a fact-finding committee of the association was looking into the circumstances of Tadvi’s suicide, including the caste discrimination she had faced.
“Whatever is needed to help him (Dr Kafeel Khan of Gorakhpur), the IMA will not be found wanting in that case,” he said.
Dr Khan has said he had written several letters to the IMA from jail and that his wife and brother had travelled to the association’s headquarters in Delhi, but he received no substantial help.
Asokan had said on Saturday: “The IMA will support Kafeel Khan and other doctors unfairly victimised. We are willing to provide institutional support.”