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Bengal doctors crisis: A state which has pulled out of Ayushman Bharat, the poor are the worst affected of Mamata’s apathy

It is high time the Chief Minister, who is also in charge of Health and Home ministries, assures citizens of their safety

West Bengal is currently reeling through an unprecedented medical crisis as all state-run medical colleges and hospitals have shut down following the mob attack on junior doctors of NRS Medical College in central Kolkata. On-duty junior doctors were brutally assaulted and hospital properties damaged in presence of police by a stone-pelting armed mob of around 200 criminals following the death of an 84-year old patient, Md. Sayeed on Monday night.

One of them, Dr Paribaha Mukhopadhyay sustained a depressed fracture of his skull and had to be immediately operated upon. His condition is stable now but will have to live the rest of his life with certain cognitive disabilities.

The brutality of the attack shocked the entire medical fraternity. His colleagues sat down in protest against the attack. The demands of medical students and junior doctors were very legitimate. All they wanted were strict police action against the perpetrators of the mob attack and enhancing of security bandobast in all the medical colleges and hospitals to prevent similar attacks in future.

As a responsible students’ organisation, ABVP supported the demands for strict action against the attacking mob and book them under provisions of Indian Penal Code. Soon, medical students and junior doctors of all medical colleges joined in the protests seeking for justice for Paribaha. As the news spread further, medical students and junior doctors of almost all medical colleges and dental colleges of India expressed their solidarity with the students’ movement at NRS Medical College.

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It was largely expected that the Chief Minister would visit Dr Paribaha and the agitating students of NRS Medical College with the assurance of action, but on Thursday afternoon, she stormed into SSKM Medical College located in her own constituency where she was greeted with slogans of “We Want Justice” by the agitating doctors. Facing the hostile situation, she termed the protesting doctors as ‘outsiders’, gave a communal colour to the agitation and issued a 4-hour ultimatum to the protesting junior doctors to resume work or get evicted from their hostels. Yesterday, Banerjee was to visit the injured doctor, but she cancelled her meeting.

This added fuel to the fire and the situation deteriorated rapidly. Medical students started leaving their hostels in fear of police action. The senior doctors who had till then abstained from any ceasing any work joined the agitation and over 550 medical faculties including the Principal and Medical Superintendent of NRS Medical College resigned from their service.

Seeing the impending healthcare crisis, we reached out to the Honourable Governor of West Bengal Shri Keshari Nath Tripathi seeking his intervention to resolve the worsening situation and prevent state healthcare services from crumbling down. The Honourable Governor tried to reach out to the Honourable Chief Minister over the phone but his calls were not answered by the CM.

Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Dr Harsh Vardhan also wrote a letter to Smt Mamata Banerjee to address the issue sympathetically keeping in mind the greater public interest. However, that letter was also not heeded.

Meanwhile, immediately after the inflammatory statements from the Chief Minister, hooligans backed by her party started threatening the medical students and junior doctors in multiple locations of West Bengal. A kerosene bomb was reportedly hurled inside Linton Hostel of the Calcutta National Medical College in Park Circus. Fire engines had to come and douse the flames to prevent further damage to lives and property. Stone pelters targeted medical students of Burdwan Medical College and injured four of them, with one of them sustaining permanent injury to the eyes.

Things took a turn for the worse in Behrampur town where Trinamool MP Abu Taher started issuing life threats to the protesting doctors to either withdraw from the protests or face severe consequences from a mob of over 250 people waiting outside Murshidabad Medical College. On receiving multiple distress calls from the students we immediately informed the Office of the Honourable Governor to prevent any untoward incident.

The most affected are the poor patients who are eagerly awaiting treatment be it their scheduled surgery or chemotherapy or other life-saving procedures. The economic condition of most people of our state is not strong enough to be able to afford their treatments in private hospitals. Ayushman Bharat- the flagship health insurance scheme of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi is also not applicable in the state of West Bengal because CM Mamata Banerjee chose to pull out of the scheme. Government hospitals are the only hope for the poor and can not be paralysed indefinitely. Even today, despite the suffering, people of the state have been sympathetic to the legitimate demands of the protesting doctors and patiently waiting for a positive solution instead of further flare ups and provocations from the administration.

It is high time the Chief Minister, who is also in charge of Health and Home ministries, takes demonstrable action against the actual miscreants and reassures the citizens of her sincerity in maintaining law and order in the state. Further escalation of the crisis will be detrimental to the interests of the patient community at large.

Note: Dr Indranil Khan is a practising clinical oncologist and presently the state vice-president of ABVP PaschimBanga

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