On June 1 when India celebrated Doctor’s Day, junior and trainee doctors in the Kolkata Medical College Hospital decided to sit in a protest, demanding that the facility be reopened for the treatment of non-COVID-19 patients.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had declared on May 7, “Keeping in view the increasing need of ramping up specialised Covid treatment in the State, we have decided to notify Medical College, Kolkata as a full-fledged tertiary level Covid Hospital, which will start functioning from 7th May 2020 onwards.”

She had added, “The facility at Medical College, Kolkata will start with 500 beds (for both Covid and Severe Acute Respiratory Infection) which would be scaled up as per need, in phases. This will be the 68th dedicated Covid hospital of West Bengal.”

The junior doctors, including Post-Graduate Trainees (PGT), interns and undergraduate students, meanwhile, refused to accept the decision. They felt the administration was underutilising the Medical College Hospital – the largest state-owned tertiary hospital in West Bengal – where thousands of patients come for free treatment every day.

They demand that: 

1. In Kolkata Medical College, besides the Covid patients, the treatment of non-Covid patients has to be restarted immediately.

2. Arrangements are made to ensure that super speciality and all other departments get back to normalcy where treatment, investigation and clinical training of medical students can be conducted.

“Many super speciality departments where patients used to come from the various parts of the state to get free treatment are closed today. Thus, non-Covid patients are being denied healthcare and the ones who are in an emergency situation are opting for private facilities. The poor, who cannot afford private treatment, are suffering the most,” Debashis Halder, a protesting PGT in Medical College Hospital said.

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A protesting junior doctor holds up a banner calling for unity among patients and doctors. (Photo: Facebook)

 

According to the protesting doctors, the Surgery Department of the hospital generally handles above 1300 cases in a month, including major and minor ones. But, after it was turned into a Covid-only facility, Medical College Hospital has allegedly had only two operations.

The Cardiology Department, which sees more than 400 patients in outdoor, and the Oncology Medicine Department, where more than 400 patients are treated every week, have remained completely shut for the last two months. The Orthopaedic department, where the patient number touches 300 everyday in outdoor, and several other departments have also endured a similar fate.

“Cancer patients urgently requiring chemotherapy or radiation treatment, thalassemia patients in need of regular blood transfusions or hundreds of others who had their dates for CT Scan and MRIs during this time have been left rejected without their prescribed treatment,” Halder said.

No work, no study: Junior doctors

While stories from the rest of the country have reflected the helplessness of overburdened healthcare workers due to the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the junior doctors in Kolkata Medical College Hospital are claiming that they have remained without or with very little work since the hospital disallowed the treatment of non-Covid patients.

According to them, the decision has hindered their academic apparatus as well. The study, research and clinical training of 900 junior doctors and 1000 undergraduate students go in tandem with the treatment of thousands of patients as most of the outdoor cases are handled by them. Thus the junior doctors claim that not using their service during the coronavirus crisis has severely affected their academic structure and has resulted in the increasing plight of poor people requiring healthcare.

Meanwhile, the Directorate of Medical Education (DME), under Health & Family Welfare Department of Government of West Bengal, declared in a notice, dated on June 1, 2020, that in view of the COVID-19 pandemic “existing and upcoming PGTs and Post Doctoral Trainees of Medical College & Hospital, Kolkata, and upcoming PGTs of College of Medicine & Sagar Dutta Hospital, Kamarhati, will undergo the curriculum based training in different disciplines in other Medical Colleges of Kolkata, if required.”

The protesting junior doctors and trainees, though, have declined the offer and said that being the finest medical institution in the state the Kolkata Medical College Hospital has the required facilities to accommodate both Covid and non-Covid patients and, so, they are not willing to further their academic calendar elsewhere.

“We will not go for training in any other colleges or hospitals as we have worked hard to get into this elite institution. Completing our training somewhere else would be an injustice to the efforts we have paid to get here. Also, we feel Medical College is perfectly capable to treat all kinds of patients and so we will not move from here,” Soumadip Rakshit, an intern in the Asia’s oldest medical college hospital, said.

Students have declared to continue with their protest. (Photo: Facebook)

 

In their bid to reopen the Medical College Hospital for non-Covid treatments, the protesting doctors held a council meeting on June 30 with the authority where all the Head of the Departments, professors, officials from the non-teaching staff and the Principal, Manjushree Roy, were present.

The protestors claimed that the college authority had verbally supported their cause and lauded their resolution to be at the frontline during the pandemic. However, the authority pushed the ball into the state government’s court and said that the order to turn Medical College Hospital into a Covid-only facility came directly from the “highest authority” and they were powerless.

However, both Rakshit and Halder asserted that the students had also communicated their demands to Chandrima Bhattacharya, Minister-of-State, Health & Family Welfare Department, Government of West Bengal. Paying heed to their request the minister had agreed to take their words to higher authorities but no significant development took place, they said.

Another council meeting took place on Thursday in the presence of the DME where the old decision was reiterated. “The authority again expressed unofficial support and encouraged us to continue with our demonstrations, but they refused to restore the Medical College Hospital into its usual work mode as they said the same thing that the order came from higher authorities,” Rakshit said.

The Statesman got in touch with Principal of Medical College Hospital, Manjushree Roy, but she denied to speak anything on the subject. Repeated calls to the office of Directorate of Medical Education (DME) also went unanswered.