June 17, 2019 / 10:13 AM / a month ago

Doctors in West Bengal call off strike after safety assurances

NEW DELHI/KOLKATA (Reuters) - Doctors in West Bengal called off a strike late on Monday after authorities promised improved hospital security, ending a week-long dispute that had spread to other parts of the country and crippled medical services.

A medical student participates in a protest called by Indian Medical Association (IMA), during a nationwide doctors strike in Kochi, June 17, 2019. REUTERS/Sivaram V

The protests began last week after three junior doctors were seriously injured in an attack by family members of a relative who had died at the NRS Medical College in Kolkata.

“We are calling off the stir as the CM (Chief Minister) has assured zero tolerance with regard to assaults on doctors,” one junior doctor told a late-night news conference. He did not give his name.

“We will get back to our duty as early as possible,” said a second junior doctor who also gave no name.

West Bengal’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had initially condemned the striking doctors, arguing that police did not go on strike when one of their colleagues was killed.

But on Monday she relented and promised better infrastructure at government hospitals, which suffer from a lack of facilities and poor hygiene standards.

Banerjee also visited one of the injured junior doctors and her meeting with the striking medics was streamed live on television.

PK Mitra, director of medical education in the state government, told Reuters that normal services would resume from Tuesday at government facilities.

Earlier on Monday, thousands of doctors had protested outside hospitals across India, holding placards and wearing black arm bands and bloodied mock bandages and demanding improved security and working conditions.

The Indian Medical Association (IMA), which represents more than 300,000 doctors and half-a-million junior doctors, medical students and other staff, said almost all its members, apart from those providing emergency services, had joined the protests.

The IMA is demanding tougher punishments for those who attack doctors, as well as higher recruitment to support overworked medical staff.

A doctor at an outpatient unit in India often saw more than 100 patients in a day, Dr RV Asokan, the IMA’s honorary general secretary, told Reuters. Despite tens of thousands of junior doctors graduating every year, many are out of work, he said.

“The workload of doctors is inhuman,” he said. “The government is not recruiting enough.”

Reporting by Alasdair Pal in NEW DELHI and Subrata Nagchoudhury in KOLKATA, additional reporting by Sivaram V in KOCHI and Jatindra Dash in BHUBANESWAR; Writing by Promit Mukherjee; Editing by Gareth Jones

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