March 22, 2017

Thousands of Mumbai doctors strike to protest violence against hospital staff

Hospitals in chaos after at least 2,000 junior doctors boycott wards claiming emotional distress and fear of assault

A leading British newspaper, The Guardian, reports on an unplanned strike by thousands of junior doctors at 17 government hospitals in Mumbai, India, in protest at violence in hospitals, after three medics were attacked on wards in the last week. 

The Guardian reports:

"The protests started after an attack on Rohith Kumar, a junior doctor who was beaten by relatives of a patient on Sunday evening. According to witnesses about 15 people attacked Kumar after the death of a woman he was treating, who was suffering from chronic kidney failure.

News of the assault on Kumar, the third of its kind in a week, spread through WhatsApp and Facebook over the weekend, and shocked India’s medical community.

On Monday morning, hospitals erupted in chaos as hundreds of junior doctors failed to turn up for work, forcing senior doctors to turn away queues of angry patients.

At Azad Maidan, a central sports field in Mumbai, hundreds of doctors from around the city gathered holding picket signs that read “Save the saviours” and chanting “we want safety”.

"We’re not even safe in our workplace. Then what are we doing all this for?"

Ajay Kumar, a second-year junior doctor, said doctors in Mumbai’s state-run hospitals work an average of 14-18 hours a day, and at least one 36-hour non-stop stretch every week.

“After all that work, this is what we get? We’re not even safe in our workplace. Then what are we doing all this for?” he said.

Kumar emphasised that the protests had no leaders. “We are not an association and we are not on strike. We are individuals and each of us is here for ourselves. We want safety,” he said.

Aniket Wadal, who witnessed the attack against Kumar on Sunday, said the doctor was too traumatised to return to work. “He is not even leaving his room. He is not talking to anyone. He is very distressed. He has filed a police report against the relatives.”

Wadal described how a mob of people stormed the hospital and started verbally abusing Kumar. “They started swearing, and that sort of thing we are very used to. We get verbal abuse on a daily basis. But then they started manhandling him and slapping him. One of them hit him hard, and because he has polio in one leg, he fell to the ground. There were two security [guards] there but they were outnumbered.”

Meanwhile, at the Lokmanya Tilak hospital, where Kumar was assaulted, patients were being turned away and many were leaving in distress. Nirmala Ingle, a cancer patient, said: “The doctors told me they can’t see me today. They told me to come back next week.”

One man, who asked not to be named, walked out of the hospital carrying a dead baby wrapped in a green blanket. “I don’t want to say anything negative about the doctors,” he said. “They’re doing the best they can, given the situation.”

Others were less forgiving. “These doctors are rascals,” said Swapnesh Jani, a heart patient who has been shuttled between hospitals all morning. “I’ve just come here from Rajwadi [hospital], where they told me to go away. I came here and the heart doctor is saying go to a private hospital. What will a poor man like me do? Only a rich man can go to a private doctor.”

Riyadh Chaudhury, who was visiting his brother, described how wards inside the hospital were completely empty. “There’s only one or two doctors in each ward. My brother was due to be operated on today, he has been unconscious for the last two weeks because of a head injury. Now they’re saying not today, come tomorrow.”

Doctors are demanding that the government improves the quality of security at hospitals by increasing the numbers of guards and restricting the number of relatives allowed to visit a patient in the ward. “They should stop relatives outside,” said Wadal. “Once they come in, it is impossible to get them out.”

Empty promises

Though promises have been made to better protect the physical safety of doctors, the doctors say little been done. “These are just oral promises that politicians make. Nothing has actually changed,” said Ajay.

The Indian government spends 1.15% of its GDP on public healthcare, among the lowest in the world. Last week, the government introduced a new national health bill that promises to increase that figure to 2.5%

India’s state-run hospitals are notoriously under-resourced and struggle to meet demands. “At our hospital we see 2 million patients per month. We are not equipped to handle that patient load,” Ajay added."


Source: The Guardian