Medical interns and post-graduate doctors in Karnataka took to the streets on Tuesday to demand the payment of eight months worth of salary. While 51 medical interns and 38 post-graduate doctors serving in Wenlock District Hospital, Regional Advanced Pediatric Care Centre (RAPCC) and Lady Goschen Hospital held a silent protest in Mangaluru, 103 interns and 130 post-graduate doctors serving in Chigateri District Hospital and Women Child Hospital went out on a rally in Davangere.
The interns and post-graduate students study at Kasturba Medical College in Mangaluru and JJM Medical College in Davangere. In their absence, services in sections of the hospitals including casualty, ICU, labour, out-patient department, medicine department, and operating rooms, were affected.
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.
Protests by students of KMC Mangaluru outside Wenlock District Hospital, Mangaluru
Those affected are students studying in private medical colleges under the government quota. "We approached the Department of Medical Education (DME) and (Medical Education Minister) DK Shivakumar with documents. We received oral assurances that the issue will be resolved but there has been no movement in that regard," said Dr. Ila Bhadrashetty, an intern at JJM Medical College, Davangere.
The doctor adds that she and her colleagues are relying on their parents or turning to alternative jobs to sustain themselves.
On Tuesday, Dr. Ila set aside her hospital duties on Tuesday to take part in the protest march through Davangere and a sit-down protest in front of the Chigateri Government Hospital where many of the dissenting doctors work.
Protests by students of JJM Medical College in Davangere
According to them, the number of patient admissions in the Chigateri Hospital has reduced ever since the protest began. "The admissions in the Medicine Department and the OBG Department have come down from 111 and 101 to 26 and 19 respectively in comparison to last week. This is because interns often act as the mediator between the patient and the doctor and very few take admission on their own," adds Dr. Ila.
The situation is similar in Mangaluru where Nuthan GN, a house surgeon at District Wenlock Hospital raised similar complaints. "Students are depending on the wages to pay rent and are now in a fix since no stipend has been paid for the past eight months. We have written to the DME, the District Medical Officer before deciding to protest," he says.
The protesting interns in Mangaluru however, returned to their duties after holiding a silent protest.
The hospitals too are facing a shortage of personnel without the doctors showing up for work. The issue, which had earlier surfaced in 2017, was resolved after the Directorate of Medical Education released funds to pay the wages of the doctors.
However, the issue has now come to a head once again and according to the protesting doctors, the DME has repeatedly maintained that since the students are studying in a private college, the college should bear the expenses of their stipend.
The government's stance stands contrary to a High Court order issued in 2001 which states that the stipend cannot be denied to "post-graduate students working in government hospitals and attached to private medical colleges".
The interns and PG students at both JJM Medical College and KMC Mangaluru have repeatedly written to the DME requesting that the funds be released.
The DME has cited that issues with Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had held up payment of wages but is yet to give a written response to the doctors in either hospital. This was corroborated by officials at Wenlock District Hospital in Mangaluru.
"CAG put an objection pointing out that these students are from private medical colleges and that they are not entitled to payment of wages from the government. They should understand that the government is not giving enough doctors to these government hospitals. The hospitals, in turn, rely on PG students and interns from private medical colleges. The situation can be resolved if the government simply pays up the wages," Dr. Rajeshwari Devi, Medical Superintendent of Wenlock District Hospital told TNM.
The protestors, however, say that they will continue their strike indefinitely until the state government pays their pending wages and resolves the issue.