Resident doctors in government hospitals on strike over salaries, allowances

Doctors in government hospitals in Delhi went on a token strike on Thursday demanding revision of the 7th Pay Commission recommendations and an increase in their salaries and allowances. They also threatened to go on an indefinite strike from June 1 if their demands are not met.

“If our demands are not fulfilled even after that, we will go on indefinite strike from June 1,” said Dr Narayan Dabas, convenor, Federation of Resident Doctors Association (FORDA).
FORDA, an umbrella organisation of 15,000 resident doctors across 41 government hospitals in the national capital, is demanding an increase in the Non-Practising Allowance (NPA) to 40 percent from the existing 25 percent. In the 7th Pay Commission recommendations it has been reduced to 20 percent.
“The basic pay and NPA were merged together while calculating House Rental Allowance (HRA) earlier, but this has now been omitted and HRA will be calculated only with basic pay resulting in less than the desired salary,” said Dr Pankaj Solanki, president, FORDA.
FORDA also demanded uniform pay scales, night shift allowances, which currently exist for nursing staff in government hospitals, and formulation of a uniform central residency scheme for resident doctors of India. 

Striking Delhi doctors say they work 100 hours a week

The massive strike of resident doctors from 20 Delhi and Central government hospitals crippling public healthcare in New Delhi could get worse. Ditching their reconciliatory tone, the Delhi government imposed the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA), which could lead to nearly 20,000 striking doctors losing their jobs.

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who on Monday had said that the doctors' demands were "genuine", on Tuesday tweeted that "causing inconvenience to public is wrong. We have been forced to invoke ESMA. If they still don't return, then in public interests, we will be left with no option but to take harsh steps."

Though the Delhi government said it agreed with the demands, the resident doctors, under the banner of Federation of Resident Doctors Association were in no mood to relent. Members of FORDA, which has 25 government hospitals under its ambit, said that the strike will only spread, shortly AIIMS resident doctors will join in, and then resident doctors from other states.

"We don't want token reassurance," said Dr Balvinder Singh of Safdarjung Hospital, "we got them when we went on strike in February by the Delhi government, the Union health ministry and the MCD."

This time FORDA is holding out for concrete action. They have asked for better working hours for resident doctors, a proper supply of lifesaving drugs in the hospitals and crucially security for doctors.

Singh says that according to the Supreme Court stipulation, one cannot work more that 48 hours a week. Yet resident doctors routinely work around a 100 hours in one week. A regular day sees them on the rounds from 7 or 8am till 8pm. In emergencies, they clock in 36 hours, and return to duty the following morning.

FORDA has asked more seats be created so as to recruit more doctors. According to Singh, the Union health ministry had moved files on this issue but then told FORDA they were lost.

Dr Tarun Arora, the president of the Resident Doctors Association in AIIMS said that was a serious crisis in public healthcare not only in Delhi but in the country. Though AIIMS is not on strike, if push comes to shove and the government does not act, Arora said that they would support FORDA.

He recounted how doctors regularly fall short of life-saving drugs and basics such as gloves and syringes. Though he says that AIIMS is slightly better off than other hospitals, doctors in government hospitals have to tell their patients' attendants to make multiple trips to pharmacies outside hospital premises to buy drugs and equipment. "The patients get frustrated and angry, they think that doctors are making a cut by sending them to outside pharmacies. But what is the doctor supposed to do?"
Both Singh and Arora say that a resident doctors see hundreds of people in one day, often alone or in twos, which angers patients and their families, as each want to be looked at first.

In the past year, there has been a spate of news reports of doctors beaten up by emotionally charged attendants, across the country -- Pune, Panvel, Allahabad and Kanpur, where resident doctors were beaten up by the Kanpur police allegedly at the behest of Samajwadi Party MLA Irfan Solanki.

"This is why there is a high probability the strike could spread to other states," said Arora. According to Singh, FORDA president Dr Panjak Solanki was already in talks with resident doctors from Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab for starters.

"But we hope everything will be solved in a couple of days. Doctors don't want to actually keep patients suffering," Arora Added.

FORDA representatives were in a meeting with the Union Health Secretary till late Tuesday evening, which will decide what happens in the coming few days.

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