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Indian medical body announces withdrawal of healthcare services after police log case against protesting doctors

Hundreds of junior doctors hit the streets of India’s capital Delhi on Tuesday and threatened withdrawal of health services, alleging police brutality on colleagues protesting delay in postgraduate college allotments.

Junior doctors in India who have completed their undergraduate degree (MBBS) and internship are required to appear for the National Eligibility-cum Entrance Test (NEET) test to decide on specialisations in their post graduate studies. The doctors were protesting the delay in counselling for the for post graduate courses.

The test is usually held in January but was postponed in view of the Covid-19 pandemic. The test was first scheduled for April but was finally held in September this year. Counselling and admission process for the PG students, who work as junior residents alongside their training, is still pending.

This is due to a batch of ongoing cases in India’s Supreme Court relating to the introduction of a new reservation quota for students from economically weaker sections.

Junior doctors started protesting a month ago demanding urgent resolution of the delay in counselling, citing staff shortages and increased work pressure due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Doctors associations said that the delay in counselling has meant that doctors are working with one-third of the workforce, in 24-hour shifts.

With outgoing third-year junior doctors scheduled to leave early next year, doctors in state and federal government institutions say they will have to continue to work extra hours with limited manpower, with no new doctors being brought in.

On Monday, protests came to a head after the Delhi police cracked down on junior doctors who were organising a march in the city.

Videos shared widely on social media show police officials roughing up students and detaining them.

The police have also reportedly lodged cases against the doctors on charges related to rioting, causing obstruction in duty of police personnel, and damaging public property.

Dr Sunil Arora, general secretary of the Federation of Resident Doctors Association which led the march on Monday told The Independent that the police action was “devastating”.

“It is really devastating and saddening what happened. Few months back we were Covid warriors. Yesterday we were rounded up like rabid dogs. We just wanted to march peacefully but they started roughing up both men and women, some doctors got injured in the process,” he said.

“The police are meant to protect us from violence, but they used violence on junior doctors,” Dr Arora added.

Hundreds of doctors were subsequently detained on Monday night as they attempted to march to health minister Mansukh Mandaviya’s home. The Federation of Resident Doctors Association said that more than 2,500 doctors were detained.

“It was a black day for us,” Dr Rakesh Bagri, former president of the Federation of All India Medical Association (FAIMA) said. The association on Monday night announced a complete withdrawal of all healthcare services in protest against the “unprovoked brute force by Delhi Police”.

The statement also condemned the police action and called it a “pathetic display of the shameless attitude of the authorities who we could not believe could stoop so low”.

On Tuesday, as doctors hit the streets in protest, massive barricades and heavy police presence were deployed at Delhi’s biggest government hospitals, including the Safdarjung Hospital, to stop them.

A delegation of junior doctors met Mr Mandaviya on Tuesday afternoon seeking to resolve the issue.

“Our demands are two-fold. The government needs to give us a written apology for the atrocities yesterday as well as promise an early redressal of the NEET-PG counselling issue,” said Dr Bagri.

In a statement after the meeting, Mr Mandaviya issued an apology to the protesting doctors and said that he “regretted” the police action.

He also urged the doctors to call off their strike and promised that the government will schedule NEET-PG counselling at the earliest.

“We’re not able to do the counselling because the matter is sub-judice before Supreme Court. The hearing will take place on 6 January. I hope that (NEET PG) counselling will start soon,” he said.

Dr Manish, the president of the Federation of Resident Doctors Association, said the organisation will decide if it will call off the protest or continue it only after a meeting with all resident doctors.

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