The main entrance to the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital in Chennai's Park Town area was dotted with protesting medicos on Friday afternoon. Cloth carpets were spread on the floor below the staircase, which seated these protesting men and women, and some, who were lying down after a long day of protesting.
Nearly 16,000 government doctors across Tamil Nadu launched an indefinite strike on Friday for four demands. The doctors belong to various groups under the Federation of Government Doctors Association (FOGDA) in the state.
The protest at the Rajiv Gandhi General Hospital was led by five doctors, who belong to Chennai, Tiruvallur and Tiruvannamalai districts. The doctors sat on a hunger strike in front of the hospital on Friday.
âWe have been protesting since July to get the Tamil Nadu government to listen to our problems. On August 27, we launched a state-wide token strike. This is when the TN government asked us to defer the strike and formed a committee to consider our demands. They requested six weeks time to get back to us. We gave them this time, but they still have not responded,â said Dr Rama S, a senior assistant surgeon and one of the five doctors on a hunger strike.
Government doctors protesting in front of the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital in Chennai on Friday
According to Dr Rama, when the group approached the government after six weeks â which expired on October 8 â the government delayed matters further by stating that the Model Code of Conduct for the bye-elections was in place, and asked them to wait. The Model Code of Conduct was in place from September 22.
With the strike on, doctors are only available for emergency OP, emergency surgeries and dengue OP. They are available for dengue OP as there is a dengue outbreak in the state, and the government highlighted cases of dengue to warn medicos against striking.
The doctors have listed four key demands from the government â periodic salary raise and promotions from the state health department; rectification of all inconsistencies in GO 4(D)2 (the government order implementing the staffing pattern to the hospitals so as to strengthen the health care delivery systems. The posts are sanctioned as per the Medical Council of India guidelines) and hiring people according to patient strength; 50% state-wise reservation for PG speciality and super speciality courses; and fourth, transparent counselling while appointing those who have completed their PGs.
"Government doctors are working round the clock. We are perennially understaffed. There have been at least 16 stress-related deaths and two suicides by government doctors due to the work burdened on them. The state has to increase the number of doctors according to the patient flow. Currently, postings are decided as per Medical Council of India guidelines, which has reduced the strength of doctors," P Balakrishnan, convenor of FOGDA, told TNM.
The main demand of the medicos is the implementation of the Dynamic Assured Career Progression (DACP), a scheme which will ensure salaries at pay band 4, which is the salary bracket for government medical officers. Currently, doctors are at pay band 3, where a salary hike is given at the end of a specific term. With pay band 4, the hikes will increase after these specific terms. As per the scheme, doctors would receive promotions in their 4th, 9th and 13th year of service.
"We have also demanded 50% reservation for the state because there will be a deficit of TN doctors in the next few years. Only 20% of government doctors working in Tamil Nadu are from the state. Rest are from outside the state. This happened as the Supreme Court revoked the 50% reservation in admission for the PG speciality and super speciality courses.
Not the first time
Protests for pay parity and other demands have been there since July 2019. Government medical officers in Chennai, Trichy and Salem districts organised a one-day hunger strike on July 10.
Government doctors, PG doctors, medical interns and their families formed human chains in various districts on August 20.
On September 23, five doctors, including two doctors who are now on a hunger strike, went on a fast unto death to force the government to listen to their demands. Five days later, doctors in different districts held a state-wide strike. It was at this time that the government formed a committee to review the demands put forth by the medicos. According to Dr Rama, the state health secretary had personally requested six weeks time to take action on the demands of the doctors. After the end of six weeks, they sought a few more days due to the bye-elections.