Reminder from doctor to strike-bound IMA
The Indian Medical Association’s call for a nationwide strike on Monday contrasts with its inaction over the plight of doctors in Gorakhpur suspended by the Uttar Pradesh government nearly two years ago after a hospital temporarily lost its oxygen supplies and 30 children died.
The doctors who were affected by the suspensions and have asserted that they have faced state-supported victimisation said the IMA had done nothing substantial to help them and waited nearly eight months to express its support for them.
The UP government had arrested paediatrician Kafeel Khan, principal Rajiv Misra, and anaesthetist Satish Kumar at the Baba Raghav Das Hospital in Gorakhpur in August 2017 after the hospital ran out of oxygen and multiple children in critical care died.
“I wrote multiple letters to the IMA from jail, my wife and brother travelled to IMA headquarters in Delhi,” said Khan. The paediatrician said he had repeatedly sought the support of the IMA, pointing out that the Allahabad High Court had stated that there was no evidence of medical negligence on his part and that he had no role in the oxygen procurement process.
Khan said he was “disturbed and anguished” over the attacks on the doctors in Calcutta and condemns the violence against doctors everywhere. “But I do not agree with the IMA call for a nationwide strike on Monday. I think the medical community should give time to the government to introduce legislation to protect doctors from violence,” Khan told The Telegraph.
The IMA, the nation’s largest body of doctors, had on Friday issued a call for a withdrawal of non-essential services from healthcare institutions nationwide on Monday. Only emergency and casualty services will be operational if doctors respond to the call.
“This is an unprecedented call because the violence that doctors are facing all over the country is also unprecedented,” R.V. Asokan, IMA’s general secretary said. “The IMA will support Kafeel Khan and other doctors unfairly victimised — we are willing to provide institutional support,” he said.
Asokan said the widespread violence against doctors by the public is an issue that is “qualitatively different” from what could be unfair government allegation against doctors.
Senior IMA officials did visit Khan in jail and held a press conference in April 2018 expressing their support for Khan and the other jailed doctors. But besides expressions of support, the IMA has done nothing to influence policy makers or government to help the doctors.
“Violence comes in many forms — what happened to the Gorakhpur hospital doctors is also an atrocity,” said Purak Misra, a surgeon and the son of the BRD hospital principal. “Doctors have become soft targets — whether for the government or for the public.”
Both Khan and Mishra believe the incident at the Calcutta hospital has been politicised with eyes on potential political gains. “We have to ask this question: had this incident happened in a different state, not Bengal, would it still have blown up to these proportions?”
But Mishra also said he is “glad” that the IMA has taken a firm stand on the violence against doctors.
Khan said he has appealed to the IMA to help resolve the issue of his suspension by the UP government. “I have to earn a living, but the UP government is neither paying me my dues nor revoking my suspension,” he said.
Khan, in statements to investigating authorities, had said he had cautioned his institution, the district magistrate and a district health official about the situation emerging from the cessation of oxygen supply to the hospital and how this put children’s lives at risk.