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Doctors' strike: When Mamata's ultimatum nixed a deal almost done

This was not the only time when doctors had come close to agreeing to start emergency services at NRS hospital on Thursday

By Subhajoy Roy in Calcutta
  • Published 14.06.19, 6:03 AM
  • Updated 14.06.19, 6:03 AM
  • 3 mins read
  •  
Protesting doctors hold up a poster that says “we are not outsiders” at SSKM Hospital. Picture by Sanat Kr Sinha

Emergency services at NRS hospital was about to resume around 1pm when agitating junior doctors learnt that the chief minister had issued a four-hour ultimatum asking them to join work or face action.

The junior doctors at NRS hospital reacted with anger to chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s ultimatum and within minutes the mood turned rigid and they refused to let emergency services start.

This was not the only time when doctors had come close to agreeing to start emergency services at NRS hospital on Thursday. The efforts were scuttled a second time when a mob from outside tried to barge into the hospital premises around 4.30pm.

This time the doctors even closed the hospital gate they had kept open for the past three days.

“What the chief minister said is an utterly irresponsible statement. The government feels it is all-powerful. If it thinks there is no need for doctors in Bengal, then so be it. We would appeal to all doctors in the state to start mass resignation,” said a striking junior doctor.

“The chief minister can take any step against us. If the fate of doctors is to get assaulted, then there is no need for us to remain doctors any longer,” he added.

Protesting doctors at NRS hospital on Thursday.
Protesting doctors at NRS hospital on Thursday. Picture by Gautam Bose

Mamata had said at SSKM Hospital that police were often attacked, but that doesn’t lead to a strike in the police force.

“They have killed so many police officials, even in my state. But police never said we would not work. Day before yesterday (Wednesday), the BJP attacked two of my senior officials, serious condition, but they never said so,” she said.

Since morning, senior officials of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) and some former students of NRS hospital sat down with striking junior doctors to look for a way out of the impasse.

“We realised that patients are suffering and that shouldn’t happen. We were in talks with the students so that at least the emergency services could resume,” said a doctor who was part of the negotiating team.

He said that the junior doctors had almost been convinced to start emergency operations twice through the day, but on both occasions the final solution didn’t come.

There were efforts to pacify the angry junior doctors even after Mamata’s statement at SSKM hospital.

The IMA officials told journalists that they had made an appeal to the students.

“We are trying to find a solution. We strongly condemn the attack on the doctors, but have also appealed to them to find a solution,” said an IMA official.

Soon after this a striking junior doctor told journalists that they would need some more time to decide their course of action.

It was during this time that renewed efforts were made to convince them to at least resume emergency services keeping in mind the plight of the patients. But this process fell through as there were attempts by outsiders to barge in to the campus.

Around 4.30pm, a group of about 25 men came close to the gate and the police sensed trouble. The agitating doctors, who were far greater in numbers, too ran to the gate. But the police stood between the two groups and didn’t allow the situation to escalate.

The junior doctors now closed the second gate on APC Road, which remained open on all three days since Tuesday morning, when their ceasework started. The other gate on APC Road has always remained closed since Tuesday.

Within half-an-hour, a bigger group of men assembled outside the hospital and threw stones towards the premises.

Several junior doctors ran towards the gate fearing that the group would break the gates and barge in.

The police, however, acted swiftly and placed barricades outside the gate, leaving no scope for the assembled men to come near the gate.

Till Wednesday, the striking junior doctors had refrained from shouting slogans against Mamata, barring one or two instances.

But after Mamata’s ultimatum, the agitating doctors persistently kept shouting : “Mukhyomantri hai hai (Down with the chief minister)."

The mood had turned so much against Mamata that the students decided there would not be any unit of Trinamul Chhatra Parishad in the hospital any longer.

“There was an unanimous decision that the Trinamul Chhatra Parishad unit in NRS stands dissolved from today,” said a junior doctor.