West Bengal, already marred with rampant political violence and lack of law and order, is reeling now under an unprecedented crisis. The doctors are on strike. After a mob of over 200 men attacked the NRS Hospital in Kolkata, beating up resident doctors and wreaked havoc because of a 75-year-old Mohammad Syed’s death, the junior doctors had said enough is enough and had demanded protection from the government.
The state government’s apathy and lack of visible action against the mobilisers of the mob and CM Mamata Banerjee’s hostile attitude towards the doctors demanding safety and justice, has created a nation-wide movement. Doctors in West Bengal’s hospitals are resigning en masse to protest against the government.
Binayak Sinha, a well-known doctor in Kolkata, has penned an article today in the Economic Times, discussing the issue and the reasons behind the crisis. In the article titled “Intensive don’t care unit”, Dr Sinha mentions that the current crisis has not erupted suddenly, but has been brewing for quite some time until it reached a tipping point after the mob attack on NRS Hospital. The article in The Economic Times is curated as below:
Here’s a fact for this opinion page: West Bengal has had more than 175 episodes of violence against doctors and other healthcare professionals in the last two years alone.
Soft violence, verbal abuse and threats are things that doctors in both government and private hospitals face every day. These incidents are off the record and have been accepted as a part of their job. But this is something new, something else.
On June 11, a 75-year-old man died at the Nil Ratan Sircar (NRS) Medical College and Hospital in Kolkata. On hearing the news, family members of the deceased threatened junior doctors present, alleging negligence on their part.
The young doctors took it in their stride. Two hours later, two lorries with 200-odd people arrived at the hospital, unleashing violence on doctors and other caregivers in front of a largely mute Kolkata Police contingent.
The hooligans started throwing bricks, with one such missile thrown at Paribaha Mukherjee, an intern who was not even involved in the care of the index patient. The son of a village schoolmaster and Anganwadi worker, Paribaha had entered medical school as a top performer in the medical entrance exam.
He now lies at a specialised neurological centre after having had brain surgery for a depressed fracture of the frontal bone. Paribaha now seems to be out of danger.
But his frontal lobe may have been damaged, and only time will tell whether he will regain full cerebration — the working of the brain.
So, when did this spiral of violence start? It can be dated back to a Town Hall meeting in February 2017 that chief minister Mamata Banerjee held with representatives of corporate hospitals. There, she bludgeoned these representatives, highlighting the ills that affect the private healthcare system — and rightly so, since much is wrong, and there is a dire need for introspection and reforms here.
But is it the job of corporates to correct the wrongs of an ailing public health policy and system? However, what this meeting actually succeeded in doing was provide a free pass to Bengal’s lumpen elements to openly attack hospitals, caregivers and doctors.
No Doctored Solution
Various bodies of doctors have protested over these last two years. Marches, vigils, black badges, ‘pen-down’ protests, memoranda to the CM, letters to newspaper editors, hunger strikes et al have all been tried, repeatedly.
All that the doctors have kept demanding is safety and security at the workplace. But the NRS Hospital attack has brought Bengal’s doctors to a tipping point. They have finally come together, boycotting outpatient services, seeking adequate security at hospitals.
They have now shut down emergency care or boycotted taking care of hospitalised patients. Even in corporate hospitals, patients have been tended to in outpatient departments with no fees charged as a mark of protest.
But, yes, patients are suffering. Diamond Harbour MP Abhishek Banerjee, who happens to be the chief minister’s nephew, has asked who will now bear the responsibility for taking care of the sick and the ailing.
He seems quite happy to forget that providing for patients is inextricably linked to providing security for their caregivers and that this is actually the responsibility of the government.
Mamata Banerjee has stated that since the police are regularly beaten up and never protest, junior doctors should follow suit. One can surmise that it is this attitude of the political establishment that has resulted in hooliganism and violence today being treated as ‘normal’ in every sphere of activity in Bengal.
The sacrosanct doctor-patient relationship lies destroyed by this open abetment to a lynch mob mentality by the administration. The proactive and verbose media do not waste a moment to publish and air news every time there’s a ‘Pulwama attack’ or a ‘Gauri Lankesh’ is gunned down. They are right to do so.
But they have been strangely silent over the last two years to the fact that the plight of the healthcare-giver has worsened. However, with this incident in NRS Hospital, and another mob attack at Burdwan Medical College two days later, the media have suddenly woken up, but with many sections ignoring the plight of doctors. Instead, they ask whether the protests and boycott are humane.
Nursing Our Society
Humanitarianism is the end point for all healthcare-givers, particularly doctors who spend their lives caring for the sick and accepting death on a day-to-day basis.
Does this mean that doctors, by dint of their profession, have no right to protest? If that is so, then the onus of protecting doctors being attacked by lynch mobs should also fall on those who refuse or fail to see the symbiotic relationship between the condition of the patient and that of his healthcare-giver.
So, what next? Civil society, media, professionals including doctors need to come together and stop this spiral of violence that seems to have become second nature in Bengal’s society.
This must be done in spite of the political forces currently at play. If this is not undertaken and achieved, even darker days loom on the horizon, for doctors as well as for patients. And, most importantly, for every citizen of West Bengal.