The week-long junior doctors' strike across state-run hospitals in West Bengal seemed headed for a resolution on Monday after a meeting between Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and representatives of the agitating medics from various medical colleges, which was broadcast live on television.
While Banerjee termed the over one-and-a-half-hour long meeting as "positive and productive" and urged the doctors' to immediately end the strike for the sake of the ailing patients, the young doctors said they were eager to get back to work, calling the deliberations a "move towards the positive direction".
A 31-member team of junior doctors from all the state-run medical colleges in West Bengal participated in the meeting with Banerjee and senior state government officials at the state secretariat Nabanna where issues related to doctors' security, hospital infrastructure and patient-doctor relationship were discussed at length.
Visibly happy with the outcome of the meeting, Banerjee thanked the junior doctors for putting forward their suggestions and requested them to resume medical services immediately. She also promised to ensure on-ground implementation of the proposals discussed during the deliberations.
"Thanks for coming here and giving your suggestions. I have come to know about many impending issues during today's meeting, which has been very positive and productive. I request all of you to withdraw the strike. A lot of patients are suffering. If you promise to withdraw the strike, they will get the assurance," Banerjee told the doctors towards the end of the meeting.
The meeting, originally scheduled for 3 p.m., was preceded by high drama as the junior doctors stuck to their demand for live media coverage of the deliberations.
The formal invite from P.K. Mitra, Director, Medical Education, had agreed to the doctors' demand for recording the proceedings of the meeting, but had no mention of live coverage.
"The discussion will focus on all your demands. I also confirm that the discussions and resolutions taken in this meeting shall be recorded, and duly communicated to you," the letter said.
However, the protesting doctors refused to budge, and categorically said that they would go to Nabbanna only if there was an official confirmation of live media coverage.
At around 2.40 p.m., the government yielded to the demand, following which the junior doctors' representatives boarded the bus for Nabanna for the meeting which got delayed by almost an hour.
During the meeting, which was held in a congenial environment, the doctors demanded exemplary action against the attackers in the NRS incident and urged the Chief Minister to issue a "strong written or verbal message against such offenders".
They also said that there should be on-ground implementation of the proposals that were taken up in the meeting.
Banerjee, on her part, asked the police to appoint nodal officers for the security of doctors at all the government hospitals in the state and take immediate action in cases of attack on medics.
"The police have to be more active and vigilant. Actions should be initiated against those who forcefully enter hospitals and assault doctors. Otherwise, complaints should be lodged against the concerned police personnel and actions will be taken," Banerjee said.
"Appoint dedicated nodal officers for addressing such problems at the hospitals. The officers should focus only on tackling patients' agitation and work in coordination with the local officers," she told Kolkata Police Commissioner Anuj Sharma, who was present at the meeting along with Director General of Police Virendra, Chief Secretary Malay Kumar Dey, Home Secretary Alapan Bandopadhyay and senior officers of the health department.
Banerjee also urged the state health department officials to increase the visibility of grievance cells in all hospitals and hold campaigns to make the patients aware of their existence.
"There are grievance cells in most hospitals but many patients and patient parties do not know about them. So set up the grievance cells at locations visible to everyone in the hospital.
"Put out hoardings in Bengali, English and Hindi so that everyone can understand. Also, hold campaigns and put up ads so that people know about them. That way, if something goes wrong, people will know that they can lodge a complaint instead of attacking the doctors," the Chief Minister noted.
When asked by the junior doctors to visit their colleague Paribaha Mukhopadhyay, who was severely injured in the NRS hospital incident last Monday, Banerjee said she would go as soon as the strike was withdrawn.
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