Could face contempt in view of HC stricture

Medical services, including emergencies across the State were paralysed on Friday, the first day of the strike by doctors and staff from the Department of Health and Family Welfare.

With the Group D staff also participating in the strike, sanitation and preparation of food for the patients stopped in most hospitals. At K.C. General Hospital in Malleswaram, even water supply to the wards dried up as the employee in charge of water supply did not report for duty.

The government — which on Thursday had announced that action would be initiated against the doctors under the National Security Act (NSA) — declared the strike as illegal on Friday. The doctors were also threatened that they could face contempt charges as the strike was in violation of a Karnataka High Court order dated January 22, 2009.

Nearly 65,000 employees of the Health Department, including 4,000 doctors, are (protesting under the banner of Karnataka Government Health Department Officers and Employees’ Welfare Samiti) demanding that the 10 government district hospitals run by the Health Department are delinked from the district medical colleges (coming under the Medical Education Department). The latter were attached to the district medical colleges after 2006, affecting promotional opportunities. For example, doctors working at the taluk level can never hope to work at district hospitals because those already there will remain till they retire as a matter of course.

As for the Health Department staff working in the hospitals, they will be relieved and will be replaced by fresh recruits by the Medical Education Department. This also means that the health staff can never aspire for a district-level posting.

The strikers also want regular payment of salaries and reforms in the transfer policy. Most employees in rural areas, who come under the purview of the zilla panchayats (ZPs), were not paid regularly as the ZPs were diverting funds for other purposes, the doctors alleged.

Samiti president H.N. Ravindra, who has been on a hunger strike from February 4 in support of these demands, was admitted to Bowring Hospital late on Friday night following weakness and fluctuating sugar levels.

M. Madan Gopal, Principal Secretary (Health and Family Welfare), said it was unfortunate that the doctors refused to budge despite several appeals. Insisting that the strike did not affect emergency services, he said existing contractual staff were handling the situation.

Health Director B.N. Dhanya Kumar said contract employees, including 610 Ayush doctors, 66 MBBS doctors, 3,900 staff nurses and 700 auxiliary nurse midwives (ANMs), were managing at the 2,353 primary health centres, 147 taluk hospitals and 27 first referral units.

Worried about patients’ plight, a senior doctor said the situation could worsen in the next two days as it was a second Saturday and Sunday.

The Chief Minister has set up a Cabinet sub-committee to examine the issue.

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