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Doctors on hunger strike in Bombay

BMJ 1996; 312 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.312.7023.73 (Published 13 January 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:73
  1. Ganapati Mudur

    Six hospital doctors in Bombay are on an indefinite hunger strike in protest at poor pay and conditions of service. Resident doctors in government hospitals across Maharashtra state (of which Bombay is the capital city) have withdrawn their labour for over a month and announced this week that their strike would continue but that they would consider “written proposals” from the government. The strike by some 4500 resident doctors has crippled services in more than 30 hospitals in the state. With only senior doctors working, hospitals have turned away thousands of patients, postponed operations, and will treat only emergency cases.

    The Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors said this week that it expected the Indian Medical Association in Bombay to organise a closure of outpatient department services as well as private consultations across the city on 11 January in support of the striking doctors.

    The striking doctors are asking the state government to implement the central residency scheme, which is already in operation in many other Indian states. Despite a directive from the Indian Supreme Court eight years ago, Maharashtra has not yet put into place this scheme, which provides higher pay, shorter hours, and reduced tuition fees.

    Under the central residency scheme, resident doctors get at least 5000 rupees (pounds sterling100; $150) monthly and have to work in eight or 12 hour shifts. Resident doctors in Maharashtra get 2500 rupees (pounds sterling50; $72) monthly and are expected to be on call 24 hours a day with a six day working week.

    The doctors in Maharashtra also pay at least three times the tuition fees charged by the other states for postgraduate education during the three year residency programme.

    State health authorities negotiating with the striking doctors last week put forward two options: accept a pay rise of 1300 rupees (pounds sterling26; $39) a month while the judiciary and government officials look into their demands or accept slightly higher pay rises graded according to year of residency programme.

    “We're ready to seriously evaluate only written proposals from the government,” said Prashant Bhatt, a resident at the King Edward Memorial Hospital in Bombay and spokesperson for the Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors, this week. “Verbal proposals made over the past few days have been conflicting,” Bhatt said. The association argues that the central residency scheme will lead to better patient care in tertiary institutions and has asked the government to explain why it has not been implemented.

    Doctors admit that the strike has primarily affected the poor and middle class, who are the main users of government hospitals in India. But, the residents say, their demands will also benefit patients. “The high tuition fees coupled with the low pay makes it difficult for some of us to buy even basic postgraduate textbooks,” said a resident at the King Edward Memorial Hospital.—GANAPATI MUDUR, science writer, New Delhi

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