Hospitals must function.

This is the very least that the sick and the dying can expect from a government that has been floundering in its quest for a prognosis and cure in the health sector after close to a week. West Bengal today bears witness to a crisis that has never arisen before. This is shameful enough and Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy must be spinning in his grave over this travesty in terms of the human development index.

A hospital can scarcely be compared to Nandigram or Singur, and the mounting unrest lends no scope for showboating by stars, who a decade ago were in the vanguard of the movement against the CPI-M’s land acquisition. Friday’s resignation of no fewer than 500 West Bengal government doctors might exacerbate the crisis further and the system could be rendered still more sclerotic.

Whatever transpires at Saturday’s scheduled meeting between the Governor and the Chief Minister and the latter’s discussions with a team of specialists, the patient must wonder whether a government exists in West Bengal. That scepticism has been reinforced post the mayhem at Basirhat to the NRS Medical College and Hospital… with the canker spreading further afield. The normally decrepit rural health service has very nearly collapsed, if the heartrending visuals are any indication.

No, it didn’t behove the Chief Minister to ignore the doctors’ appeal to visit their junior colleague, now nursing a neurological injury in hosptal. As it turns out, her short shrift to the doctors has only steeled the adamant attitude of the medical fraternity. Not to put too fine a point on it, Mamata Banerjee took 72 hours to react and then skirted NRS to visit SSKM Hospital, which was closed as a mark of protest.

Her verbal demarche, specifically that doctors must resume duty within a 90-minute deadline ~ 12-30 to 2 ~ was ignored throughout West Bengal. Though technically the health minister, she has been decidedly ineffectual in this segment for the past eight years. Her bluster was violated, and flagrantly so in the aftermath of the mob violence on NRS doctors.

Far from evolving a formula to resolve the imbroglio, the Chief Minister on Thursday threatened them with dismissal if they violated the deadline. Small wonder the doctors have now demanded an “unconditional apology” for her performance at SSKM, a visit to the injured doctors, a statement condemning the attack on them, her immediate intervention, a judicial enquiry into the alleged inactivity of the police at NRS on 10 June, and withdrawal of charges against some junior doctors.

Given the increasingly belligerent mood on either side of the fence, the six-point charter could turn out to be another issue of furious dispute. For both the doctors and the government, it is time to see reason and act. The patient has suffered long enough. Since last Monday night, the applecart of healthcare has been rocked fair and square. Indeed, West Bengal is in crisis.