Patients in the national capital faced a harrowing time on Thursday as resident doctors at several government hospitals went on strike and withdrew all services including that at the emergency department to protest against a key legislation that seeks to regulate the medical education sector.The healthcare services, including that at emergency department, will remain affected on Friday also as resident doctors' associations of AIIMS, Safdarjung, RML and those attached with FORDA decided to continue their strike on Friday after the passage of the National Medical Commission Bill in Rajya Sabha.
"General body meeting of the RDAs of AIIMS, Safdarjung, RML, FORDA, and URDA was held till late night and it was unanimously decided that the strike will continue tomorrow," one of the resident doctor of the associated associations said.
They will refrain from working in OPDs, emergency departments, ICUs and operation theatres as a mark of protest against the Bill.
A delegation of resident doctors of various hospital is likely to meet Union Health minister Harsh Vardhan on Friday.
Rajya Sabha on Thursday passed the National Medical Commission Bill for replacing the corruption-plagued MCI with a new body, in what was described by the government as one of the biggest reforms for medical education in the country.
The bill will now go to the Lok Sabha again as two amendments need to be approved by it.
Scores of doctors at several government hospitals, including AIIMS, RML Hospital, Safdarjung Hospital and LNJP Hospital, boycotted work, held marches and raised slogans to protest against the National Medical Commission Bill.
They have also threatened to continue their strike for an indefinite period if the bill is passed.
Protests by resident doctors and undergraduate students of AIIMS and Safdarjung hospitals hit traffic on the stretch of road between Ring Road and Parliament as they tried to march towards Parliament. They were detained by police and later let off.
Another group of doctors, associated with Federation of Resident Doctors' Association (FORDA), who had planned to march to Parliament from RML Hospital, were prevented from venturing out, FORDA's general secretary Dr Sunil Arora claimed.
Patients unaware of the stir reached hospitals only to return or wait interminably to be attended.
Resident doctors of Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Hospital, B R Ambedkar Medical College and Hospital, DDU Hospital and Sanjay Gandhi Memorial Hospital have also boycotted work and joined the stir.
At LNJP Hopsital, Delhi government's largest facility, the entire OPD was shut and emergency department saw very few patients.
"We have a footfall of 9,000 per day in the OPD, and about 900 visit ER facility. Today, many patients, a large number of them from outstation cities, had to go back as the OPD is closed. In ER department, about 300 have visited so far, and we are managing with medical teaching staff from our college," LNJP Medical Superintendent Kishore Singh said.
Pankaj Pandey, a resident of Ghaziabad, had come for his check-up but had to wait for long hours, and eventually had to return home in vain.
The emergency departments and ICUs at many hospitals were managed with the help of faculty members, sponsored residents, pool officers, faculty members of other medical or surgical departments, while OPDs, radio-diagnosis and laboratory diagnosis services functioned on a "restricted basis" in some health facilities and shut at many other places.
Routine surgeries were cancelled and only emergency cases were taken in several facilities, authorities said.
"We usually perform around 150-180 surgeries in a day. All the routine planned surgeries were cancelled and only emergency cases were attended to," Dr Sunil Gupta, Medical Superintendent at Safdarjung Hospital said.
Hospitals in the national capital put in place contingency plans as regular services were severely affected.
Patients, many from neighbouring cities, bore the maximum brunt of the strike as they faced a lot of hassle in accessing medical care or waited for long hours at OPDs of hospitals due to shortage of staff.
Sixty-year-old Shashi Devi, a native of Uttar Pradesh, said she along with her ill son and husband reached the national capital on Wednesday, and wanted to consult a doctor for her son on Thursday, but could not do so and was asked to come later.
"We are hearing that the strike is for an indefinite period. I don't know how we will manage our stay in Delhi, as since yesterday we are on the pavement of the road facing the AIIMS," she rued.
The medical fraternity is opposing the bill saying it was "anti-poor, anti-student and undemocratic".
The Indian Medical Association, which has also expressed reservations over several sections of the bill had given a call for a 24-hour withdrawal of non-essential services on Wednesday across the country.
"The provisions of the said bill are nothing short of draconian and promote gross incompetence and mockery of professionals currently working day and night and sacrificing their youth for this broken system."
"If it is tabled in its current form in Rajya Sabha without any amendments, the medical fraternity across the country will be forced to resort to extreme measures, which may hamper healthcare services nationwide. We will withdraw from essential and non-essential services from hospitals for an indefinite period," the AIIMS RDA, the FORDA and the Untied-RDA said in a joint statement.