West Bengal: Doctor-patient, public-govt, lines drawn hard in the ward

Ravik Bhattacharya, SWEETY KUMARI
Morjeena Bibi with her child outside SSKM Hospital, Kolkata as the strike by doctors continued Friday. Ravik Bhattacharya

RIGHT across the main block of Seth Sukhlal Karnani Memorial (SSKM) Hospital, in the scant shade of a tree, sits Morjeena Bibi with her seven-month baby Mofiz. She has come from Balurghat in North Dinajpur and with no doctors to treat or admit her child who suffers from hydrocephalus, she is angry. First, at the doctors, then at the ineffectiveness of the government.

A four-minute walk from her is the sprawling Academic block. On and around the staircase, more than a hundred junior doctors and interns sit holding placards: We want justice, and Security first, service later. Their anger s target: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

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In the biggest state-run hospital, politics has drawn a sharp and clear piding line. While junior doctors, interns, nurses and even hospital staff vent their anger at the ruling party and Banerjee, most patients and their relatives back the CM but their support is laced with another anger too: anger that Banerjee has failed to find a solution to the impasse. And that her words don t seem to matter much.

For, it was here yesterday that Banerjee walked in and gave an ultimatum of a few hours to protesting doctors. That came and went but other than Emergency and some in-house patient services, almost everything else, including OPDs, remain shut.

This is the state s showpiece hospital it houses the Institute of Post Graduate Medical Education and Research (IPGMER), has a sanctioned bed strength of 1775, several departments, OPDs, special clinics, organ transplant facilities. There are 150 undergraduate MBBS seats, apart from Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery graduates.

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I have been here since 6 am. It s already 1 pm and no doctor is available to treat my son. I stand with the Chief Minister because she has told doctors to get back to work but the fact is no one is listening to her, says Rehman s mother Morjeena Bibi.

Unlike Morjeena, Rupola Banerjee is one of the few lucky people who s got a bed for her elderly mother suffering from Hepatitis B. But she is waiting for the doctor as well. The treatment hasn t even begun. We can t discharge her because then where do we take her? The attack on doctors is not acceptable but have you seen how they talk to patients? I am not taking anyone s side, I support Mamata Banerjee. She will not tolerate such nonsense in a hospital. Whoever attacked doctors that day should be in jail but all those who are dying now what about them? Rupola said.

My son Shiv Shankar is two and has a severe ear pain, says Lipika Ghosh. I was told OPD was shut and I should go to Emergency. Mamata Didi has always been like this since the days of Nandigram and Singur. But she wasn t the CM then, I think she should do something soon to end this too.

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Over two dozen policemen guard Emergency which is one of the entry points to the hospital. Not more than one relative of a patient is allowed in. If the CM has support here, it evaporates as you walk across to the Academic block where all want to speak but few want to be identified.

She claimed she called students of Nilratan Sircar Medical College Hospital (where a patient died and doctors were beaten up) and they refused to speak to her. She was the one who didn t talk to Narendra Modi during the cyclone. How will she justify that? She should have gone to NRS and spoken to them. She threatened us like her party is doing throughout Bengal since the panchayat polls and then during the Lok Sabha polls. We are not blind, said an intern.

Said another intern: When she came here, she saw an intern with a placard, she said you are students, behave like one. If you cross the limit, you will not be given internship completion certificate…how can you just talk to protestors like that? In the OPD, two of us have to attend to more than 200 patients per day. How much time can we give to each? We understand the suffering of the patients but the Chief Minister is to blame, not us. What if I lose my life in one of these attacks?

Senior doctors and professors join the chorus: the CM should reach out.

Although I am working in Emergency since she (Banerjee) asked us to, we fully support the students and junior doctors. Our CM is wrong in the way she handled this. Students are not her political opponents…Everyone feels that her grip on the government is slipping, says a senior doctor.

We have never seen such a situation before. Earlier, when there were strikes, even during the Left regime, the hospital Super (Superintendent) used to handle it, the Health Minister would amicably settle the situation. But she has made it like a war with doctors. A war we do not want but a war we will fight if thrust upon us, said another senior doctor.

The buzz among nurses, ward boys, medical staff and cleaning staff echoes this and is similar to conversations during the Lok Sabha campaign.

We are just cleaning staff but I tell you the situation isn t being handled well. Issue after issue…poll violence or Ram Navami or communal trouble, and now it is doctor security. Remember it was the arrogance of the Left which brought their decline. She is doing the same thing, says an OPD janitor.

We have already showed solidarity with doctors. They are on the right path. Politics is everywhere in the hospital now. Politics for and against the ruling party and its chief. We are against, says a nurse.

Late at night, a large posse of police personnel stand vigil. The Emergency is open, relatives of patients pack the four waiting halls. Those awake outside are mostly ambulance drivers.

Like Subodh Das, a resident of south Kolkata. I have been driving the hospital ambulance since 1999 and I have never seen such an impasse. For the past two days, I have no customer. I think our Chief Minister could have resolved it quickly by just talking to the young men and women doctors. She allowed the BJP to rise and now she should be careful. Just last month, the BJP won so many seats that many people are not scared of Trinamool as they used to be.