The Health Department on Monday decided to rope in private hospitals and contract doctors to deal with emergencies in rural areas, even as the plight of patients in hospitals run by the Department of Health and Family Welfare across the State worsened on the fourth day of the doctors’ strike. Talks between the striking doctors and the government failed after a heated argument.

The doctors, unhappy with the government’s response to their main demand to delink the ten district hospitals from district medical colleges, have decided to continue their protest.

Representatives of the doctors and Health Department employees, who were invited for talks by Health Minister Arvind Limbavali and Principal Secretary (Health and Family Welfare) Madan Gopal on Monday, walked out of the meeting in a huff shouting slogans against the government.

The flashpoint was reached when Mr. Limbavali alleged that the strike was intended to damage the image of the department. This was followed by a heated argument between officials and representatives of the strikers.

H.N. Ravindra, president of the Karnataka Government Health Department Officers and Employees’ Welfare Samiti, said the meeting was one-sided.

“I was not allowed to speak. The Minister’s statement that I was leading the protest keeping the forthcoming election in mind is a baseless allegation,” he said.

Mr. Madan Gopal countered it by saying that government had already decided to revise the transfer policy and ensure that staff salaries are paid in the first week of the month. “Regarding the demand to delink the district hospitals from medical colleges, the Cabinet subcommittee examining the issue has to take a decision since it involves certain technical, academic, administrative and legal issues,” he said.

Next meeting

Mr. Madan Gopal asserted that it was unfair for doctors to put patients’ lives at risk. “The Cabinet subcommittee met once and Medical Education Minister S.A. Ramdas could not attend it. But this does not mean he will not attend future meetings. It has been decided to convene the next meeting on Wednesday,” he said.

If the hospitals were suddenly delinked from the colleges, the Health Department would be responsible for getting the colleges derecognised by the Medical Council of India (MCI), he explained.

Mr. Madan Gopal said the Minister had also agreed to pay rural allowance to junior and senior health assistants on the lines of a similar allowance paid to doctors.

He warned the doctors that if they boycotted the national Pulse Polio campaign, it would be “anti-national”. “As the campaign is scheduled on February 24, there is still time and I am sure the doctors are not so cruel to deny these vital drops to children,” he said.

“We are writing to private hospitals through the Deputy Commissioners to lend us their services at this crucial juncture. This apart, we will also recruit AYUSH and MBBS doctors immediately in rural areas. The police have been instructed to start enforcing the National Security Act (NSA) and arrest the doctors,” Mr. Madan Gopal added.