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Stand-off continues, doctors say Mamata meeting must be taped

Hindustan Times logo Hindustan Times 17-06-2019 HT Correspondent

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(Provided by NDTV)

Kolkata, June 17 -- Doctors protesting against an assault on their colleagues in Kolkata said on Sunday they are ready for talks with chief minister Mamata Banerjee but she will have to meet them in the presence of journalists and representatives of all 14 medical colleges in West Bengal, where health care services are in a shambles due to the ongoing agitation.

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The protests, which began on Monday after at least three junior doctors were beaten up by family members of a patient who died in the state-run NRS Medical College, entered the sixth day on Sunday, paralysing operations of outpatient departments (OPDs) and spilling over to other parts of the country, including the national capital of New Delhi.

Health care across India could be affected on Monday as the Indian Medical Association (IMA) has announced in a country-wide call that all services related to OPDs, routine operation theatre and ward visits will be withdrawn for 24 hours from 6am on Monday.

After a three-hour meeting on Sunday afternoon in Kolkata, the doctors on protest said Banerjee is free to choose the venue for the meeting but the conditions set by them will have to be met, a demand that came a day after they turned down the chief minister's appeal for a dialogue at the state secretariat.

There was no immediate reaction from the state administration. A senior official said Banerjee, who is also the health minister, would take a call on the matter. Officials said Banerjee may hold a meeting at the state secretariat at 3pm on Monday.

After indications that the government may not allow the media in the meeting, doctors asked the administration if they could use personal cameras to record the proceedings.

In the meeting, the doctors are expected to demand better infrastructure at state-run hospitals - the lack of which often exposes them to protests by patients' families - better security and the arrest of the attackers at NRS Hospital.

Banerjee softened her stand on Saturday and said her government did not want to take action against junior doctors and hurt their careers. "Let good sense prevail. I appeal to them to join duty and end the suffering of thousands," Banerjee said, reiterating that "outsiders" were provoking the doctors, a claim that has not gone down well with the protesters. Earlier, she made similar claims and asked the doctors on Thursday to join work or face action, a warning the protesters defied.

"We want an end to this impasse through discussion with the chief minister which, to maintain transparency, should not be behind closed doors but open to the media under camera coverage," said a doctor on Sunday, reading out from a press statement issued by them. The statement did not carry the signature of any individual. When asked why it was not signed, they said, "We are doctors."

"We want to join our duties as early as possible. Once all our demands are met adequately and logically through the discussions, we are hopeful that the chief minister will be considerate enough to solve the problems that the health care sector in the state is facing currently," the statement said.

In a related development, Priyank Kanoongo, the chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, arrived in Kolkata on Saturday night and visited paediatric wards in three state-run hospitals to verify reports that at least two children have died allegedly due to lack of proper treatment during the agitation.

"The situation was pathetic in all three hospitals. Children should not suffer. Ego cannot be more important than the lives of children. I will submit my report to the central government," Kanoongo said.

Union health minister Harsh Vardhan on Saturday asked states to consider enacting specific legislation for protecting doctors and medical professionals from any form of violence. IMA, the apex medical body, too, has demanded a comprehensive central law in dealing with violence on doctors and health care staff.

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