Doctors' Strike in West Bengal

Doctors' Strike Happily enough, the doctors' strike in West Bengal, triggered by an incident at Nilratan Sarkar Medical College & Hospital, has ended. A row over the death of an aged patient led to a junior doctor being severely beaten up and junior doctors' backed by seniors, started an indefinite cease work. The cease work quickly spread like a prairie fire, leading to a virtual halt to the work in government hospitals and causing immense suffering to patients who regularly come to such hospitals for treatment. It is well known that such patients generally belong to low-income groups unable to afford treatment at private hospitals and nursing homes. Some doctors, however, tried to maintain services at various emergency departments. Yet, deprived of this essential service, numerous patients fell in dire straits; and quite a few deaths have been reported. It is not untrue that one section of doctors often shows great insincerity in their work, and get away with impunity. Some four or five years' ago, a case of gross negligence, leading to the death of a teen-aged girl at the SSKM hospital, was reported and the government appointed a probing committee, which found the concerned doctor guilty of deliberate negligence. No action was, however, taken. Such sort of inaction on the part of the government must have encouraged the trend of insincerity, and the influence of globalization has in general aggravated the selfishness and greed of the petty bourgeoisie to which the doctors' community in general belongs. Yet it is unfair to judge all doctors as insincere and indifferent to their duties. There are many examples of extremely competent doctors giving up the lure of vast worldly gains in order to serve the disadvantaged. Overcrowding in hospitals, low doctor-patient ratio, infrastructural deficiency etc are also reasons which cripple the power of doctors to act properly. Taken as a whole, the ghastly attack was not at all justified. The chief minister's initial intransigence, and belligerent mood, far from dousing the flame, actually intensified it. She could have assured the doctors of adequate security and requested them to return to work. But she did not, which is why many well-meaning persons came out in support of the strike, and it spread even to Delhi and Gujarat.

In this sense, Mamata Banerjee was at least partially responsible for the prolongation of the strike and suffering of the patients. On the other hand, reports of sufferings of patients came pouring in and pressure was mounting. This had its impact on the minds of those who had supported the strike, and they could not brush aside the socially harmful effects of the strike. The chief minister also had to understand that unless she gave up her belligerent posture, the situation would worsen. She had to soften her position, and those doctors who expressed their resolve to continue the strike had to mellow down. Another aspect of the entire episode is that the BJP tried to communalize the issue by asserting that attackers are Muslims and forgetting that in the enumerous such incidents of the past, many attackers as well as the victims of alleged negligence, were non-Muslims. . But this attempt has miserably failed, because nobody has given it a serious hearing. None of the strikers and their supporters has apparently paid any heed to the BJP's cry. The strike has thrown up the entire issue of the overall environment of health care and health services of West Bengal. Whether, in the aftermath of the strike, the environments become better and more humane remains to be seen. ooo

June 18, 2019

Vol. 51, No. 52, Jun 30 - Jul 6, 2019