by Peerzada Arshad Hamid
NEW DELHI, March 23 (Xinhua) -- Thousands of doctors in India's western state of Maharashtra Thursday continued their strike to protest assaults on them at the hands of relatives of patients.
The doctors went on strike in Mumbai on Monday demanding adequate security measures inside hospitals. Thursday marked the fourth-straight day of strike sending local government into a tizzy.
Last week three doctors were attacked inside hospital wards by relatives of patients.
The protests erupted on Sunday evening after Rohith Kumar, a junior doctor was beaten by relatives of a woman patient, who died in Lokmanya Tilak hospital. Kumar according to witnesses was attacked by over a dozen people following her death and the two hospital guards on duty were outnumbered by the crowd accompanying the woman. Doctors said the woman was suffering from chronic kidney failure.
Attack on Kumar was the seventh of its kind in the last fortnight and alerted the medical community especially doctors in India.
Reports said junior doctors in over two dozen government hospitals took unpaid leave to protest the government apathy over the rising assaults.
The junior doctors began their strike with hundreds of them staying away from work by going on mass casual leave. The absence triggered chaos inside hospitals and forced senior doctors to tackle the rush of patients.
The protesting doctors staged protests outside hospitals in Mumbai holding placards that read "save the saviours" and shouted "we want safety".
"On an average we work for 14-18 hours a day and in return, we are being bullied and thrashed," said Atul, a junior doctor told Xinhua over telephone from Mumbai. "We are totally unsafe inside hospitals and we simply want a secure workplace."
The doctors strike has badly hit the patient care inside hospitals and distressed patients were being turned away.
"The doctors were not present inside ward and hospital staff told me to come back next week," Sakhshi Malhotra accompanying her mother to hospital said. Malhotra's mother is suffering for Parkinson's diseases.
The local government had asked striking doctors to resume duties by Wednesday evening or face stern action, including a salary cut for six months.
However, on Thursday in India's capital city New Delhi around 20,000 resident doctors in government-run hospitals went on a mass casual leave to express their solidarity with the Maharashtra doctors.
On Wednesday 1,200 doctors at India's premier health institute - All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) turned up in hospital wearing helmets in a bid to support their counterparts in Maharashtra.
The Bombay high court Thursday asked striking resident doctors to end their strike and join duties immediately. The court asked local government to make adequate security arrangements for the safety of doctors at government hospitals within 15 days, so they can work without fear.
The court's judgement came in a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking action against the protesting doctors.
The Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis told the state's lawmaking body that government will take every possible step to ensure protection of doctors.
Meanwhile, India's federal Health Minister Jagat Prakash Nadda expressed concern about the security issues relating to doctors and urged state governments to ensure safe working conditions inside hospitals.
"Deeply concerned about security issues relating to doctors. I would request state Govts to take proactive measure to ensure their security," Nadda wrote on twitter. "I would also urge upon the doctors to continue to provide their best services to people, so that they don't suffer."
However, striking doctors are yet to call off their protest despite government assurance.
The Indian government spends 1.15 per cent of its GDP on public healthcare, among the lowest in the world. Last week, the government introduced a new national health bill that promises to raise public health expenditure to 2.5 per cent of the GDP in a time-bound manner.