Medical interns and post-graduate doctors in Karnataka are protesting once again to demand the payment of 11 months worth of stipend.
"Our batch of students expected that we would be paid by the Karnataka Health and Family Welfare Department but we have not received payments for the last 11 months," says Dr. Siddharth Shankar, who works at Wenlock District Hospital in Mangaluru.
In all, 54 Medical interns serving in Wenlock District Hospital and Lady Goschen Hospital in Mangaluru held a protest on Tuesday near the OPD block of Wenlock Hospital. 97 Interns and 133 PG doctors serving in Chigateri District Hospital and Women and Child Hospital in Davangere too are protesting over the same issue.
The interns and post-graduate students are from Kasturba Medical College in Mangaluru and JJM Medical College in Davangere. Though they are studying in private colleges, they are attached to government hospitals.
Receiving stipend on time is a recurring issue for interns and post-graduate doctors in these hospitals. In 2018, interns and doctors in Mangaluru and Davangere took to the streets to demand the payment of their stipends after it was delayed by over 8 months. The students were eventually paid by the Directorate of Medical Education (DME) under the Karnataka government.
The issue came to a head once again this month. This is because the DME has repeatedly maintained that since the students are studying in a private college, the hospital where students are working, should bear the expenses of their stipend. The students, however, qualified for private colleges through the Common Entrance Test (CET), a competitive exam for admission in medical, dental and engineering courses conducted by the Karnataka Examinations Authority (KEA).
Following the delay in paying wages in 2018, the Department of Health and Family Welfare in the Karnataka government wrote a letter to the DME. In the letter dated October 30 2018, it was stated that the "payment of stipend for ongoing batches will be done by the respective hospitals through their Arogya Raksha Samiti (ARS) account". The Department of Health and Family Welfare urged hospitals to free up space in their budgets by "enhancing clinical charges to cover payment of stipends" and "increase the number of procedures conducted so as to make maximum utilisation of Arogya Karnataka Scheme".
However, the protesting medical students say that the hospitals haven't taken up the responsibility of paying their stipends citing lack of funds.
"The Health Department, the hospital administrations and the colleges have juggled the responsibility to pay stipend to interns and PG doctors for the past year. But none of them have come forward to pay the stipend" says Dr. Akash, a post-graduate student at JJM Hospital in Davangere.
This is despite an RTI response documented in August 2019 confirming that more than Rs 4.8 crore was available under the ARS at Wenlock District Hospital in Mangaluru. However, hospital authorities stated that the remaining funds under the ARS were for procuring drugs in emergency situations and not for paying stipends of interns.
Medical interns are paid Rs. 20,000 in monthly wages, while post-graduate students are paid Rs. 30,000, Rs. 35,000 and Rs. 40,000 in their first, second and third years respectively. The amount needed for the payment of all interns at Wenlock Hospital was quoted around Rs. 2.4 crore.
In a letter written on Wednesday, Dr. Rajeshwari Devi, Medical Superintendent of Wenlock District Hospital, once again requested the officials in the Karnataka Health and Family Welfare Department to release funds to pay interns stipends for up to 11 months.