Doctors' strike: Junior doctors reciprocate flexibility displayed by Mamata
A meeting has been scheduled at Nabanna at 3pm on Monday between junior doctors and chief minister Mamata Banerjee. If loose ends are tied up and the meeting goes ahead without any hiccup, the chances of an end to the crisis in the state-run healthcare system are bright.
Significant progress was made on Sunday after the junior doctors reciprocated the flexibility displayed by the chief minister on Saturday and left it to Mamata to choose the venue, differences over which had emerged as a stumbling block before talks.
The junior doctors had initially insisted that the chief minister meet them at NRS Medical College and Hospital, where they were assaulted on Monday night after the death of a patient.
On Sunday, while dropping the demand on the venue, the junior doctors said the meeting should not be held behind closed doors and it should be “open to the media under camera coverage”. They also wanted representatives of all medical colleges of Bengal in sufficient numbers to be part of the discussions.
The government is open to accepting most of the demands but is trying to persuade the junior doctors to accommodate concerns about conducting negotiations under the glare of the camera.
A government source said he was optimistic that a solution could be found. “We don’t think there will be a problem as a joint news conference can be held after the meeting,” the source said.
The junior doctors’ reaction to the government’s reluctance to allow cameras throughout the proposed discussions could not be ascertained till late at night.
Hopes of a breakthrough had crystallised after the junior doctors held a general body meeting at NRS.
A statement released after the meeting did say the chief minister’s Saturday media conference, where she appealed for good sense to prevail, was “full of discrepancies” and sought a clarification.
But the overall tone of the statement reflected the sense of concern and urgency among the junior doctors about the deteriorating situation in healthcare and an eagerness to end the impasse immediately through discussions and resume their duties as early as possible.
The junior doctors said in the media release: “We leave the decision to choose the venue of such discussion with our representatives to the Honbl. Chief Minister, but it should accommodate representatives of all medical colleges of West Bengal in sufficient numbers and the media.
“We want to resume our duties as early as possible in the best interest of the common people once all our demands are logically addressed and met adequately through discussion. We are hopeful that our Honbl. Chief Minister will be considerate enough to solve the problems that our entire state is facing in healthcare sector currently.”
The statement had begun with the observation: “The last press interview by the Honbl. Chief Minister of West Bengal on 15.6.2019 was full of discrepancies which have led to false propagation of the motto behind our protest and the response of the government to it, and hence needs clarification.
“We want immediate end to this impasse by discussion with the Honbl. Chief Minister, which to maintain transparency, should not be behind closed doors but open to the media under camera coverage.”
Later, a health department source said: “The agitating doctors today (Sunday) informed the government through the director of medical education (Pradip Kumar Mitra) that they were willing to meet the chief minister at a time and venue of her choice. They have been informed of her willingness to meet them tomorrow at Nabanna.”
Earlier, the agitators’ insistence on Mamata meeting them at NRS had scuppered a meeting scheduled at Nabanna on Saturday evening.
The government source said Nabanna had agreed to the junior doctors’ demand for “representation from all the 14 medical colleges” at the meeting.
“But the number of representatives from each institute is yet to be decided. Depending on the number, the meeting would be held at the Nabanna auditorium or the conference hall on the 14th floor,” the source said.
A junior doctor who was at the general body meeting said the medics had prepared a list of 28 representatives whom they wanted to attend the Nabanna meeting. “We have prepared a list of two representatives each from 14 medical colleges. We want all of them to be present.”
The junior doctors met again at night to discuss the list.
Mitra, the director of medical education, arrived at NRS on Sunday morning and spoke at the general body meeting, which started at 11.15am.
The principals of several medical colleges too were at NRS and, sources said, expressed a wish to attend the meeting briefly and address the junior doctors. But they were told that Mitra alone would be let in.
Mitra told the junior doctors their movement had already peaked and it was time to end it. This would be a win-win situation for them, he is understood to have told the meeting.
Sources said that among the 200-odd junior doctors at the general body meeting, 25 to 30 stuck to the agitators’ original demand that the chief minister visit NRS and speak to them.
“But several junior doctors felt there should be an amicable solution and that they should be ready to meet the chief minister at any venue,” a junior doctor who attended the meeting said.
A junior doctor said the agitators were open to having a meeting with Mamata on Sunday night. “Representatives of all the medical colleges from Bengal are here. We can have the meeting tonight if the chief minister so wishes,” he said, before Nabanna fixed the talks for Monday.
IMA strike on
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 countrywide from 6am on Monday in solidarity with the striking junior doctors in Bengal.