Indian junior doctors hold placards during a protest at North Medical College and Hospital in Siliguri. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: After six days of an impasse that severely disrupted health services at government-run hospitals across West Bengal, there is finally some positive news with the agitating junior doctors of the state agreeing to meet Chief Minister (CM) Mamata Banerjee for talks.

The junior doctors went on an indefinite strike demanding security from the government after two medical interns were injured — one of them still in critical condition — in an attack. Irate family members of a patient, who had died at the city’s Nil Ratan Sircar (NRS) Medical College and Hospital last Monday, and a group of armed hoodlums assaulted medical staff members at NRS and ransacked the hospital.

According to a source at Calcutta Medical College and Hospital (CMC), the meeting between the junior doctors’ body, Joint Forum of Junior Doctors, and Banerjee could take place at Governor’s House in Kolkata.

“This will serve as a neutral venue of sorts since the CM has so far refused to come to NRS for talks and the junior doctors have also not relented on their demand that the CM come and meet them at NRS and not behind closed doors at state secretariat Nabanna, as proposed by the CM,” a senior doctor from the Paediatric Department at CMC, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Gulf News from Kolkata on Sunday afternoon.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee during a sit-in
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee during a sit-in over the CBI's attempt to question the Kolkata Police commissioner in connection with chit fund scams, in Kolkata, Monday, February 04, 2019. Image Credit: PTI

“In fact, after the CM went on record during Saturday evening’s press conference, saying that the government had accepted all the demands of agitating junior doctors, pressure was building up on the agitating doctors to seek some kind of an exit route from the current impasse. Otherwise, public opinion would have gradually gone against the doctors, since health services were severely affected in state-run hospitals because of mass resignations by doctors,” the senior doctor said.

Violence on the rise

However, with the Indian Medical Association (IMA) having called a nation-wide strike on Monday and the medical fraternity all across the country showing solidarity towards the doctors’ agitation in Bengal, a final decision on the venue for the meeting with Banerjee is unlikely to emerge before mid-day on Monday. “We would like the strike to go ahead at least for some time on Monday, before we choose a venue for the meeting with the CM,” the senior doctor at CMC told Gulf News.

Incidents of violence against doctors and atrocities against medical staff have been on the rise in Bengal over the last four years. One junior doctor at NRS, who preferred not to be identified, told Gulf News: “There have been at least 250 recorded incidents of violence against doctors in the state since 2015 and yet the current government has done little or nothing to address the issue of doctors’ safety. The attack on junior doctors at NRS last Monday night was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Only a nation-wide movement could have drawn attention to our plight.”

According to another senior doctor at Seth Sukhlal Karnani Memorial (SSKM) Hospital in Kolkata, doctors were being made to work under tremendous mental and physical duress. “Now while that is all a part and parcel of what one may call ‘professional hazard’, the fact remains that relentless political pressure has vitiated the entire atmosphere within the medical fraternity. To cite just one case in point, when the dengue outbreak was at its peak in the state in 2017, there was an unwritten diktat from the establishment that we avoid mentioning ‘dengue’ as a cause of death in death certificates as far as possible! Even the Calcutta High Court expressed its reservations about the number of dengue cases in Bengal, as furnished before the court by the state Health Ministry,” the doctor explained.