A two-day strike called by doctors demanding rationalisation of salary might cripple basic health services across the state for the next 48 hours.
Around 4,000 government doctors associated with primary health centres, additional primary health centres and district and referral hospitals have vowed to go on the strike called by Bihar Health Services Association (BHSA). Indian Medical Association (IMA) has extended support to the strike and 80 per cent doctors of the six government hospitals are affiliated to the association.
The only ray of hope for the patients in cases of emergency is these government hospitals, including Patna Medical College and Hospital and Nalanda Medical College and Hospital in the capital, as the government has pledged to keep alternative arrangements ready in these health hubs.
"Patients can visit all six government hospitals in case of any emergency. We will monitor the conditions at the primary health centres, the district and referral hospitals and the additional primary health centres and keep tabs on the number of doctors going on the strike," said R.P. Ojha, the additional secretary-cum-spokesperson of the health department.
"Our ambulance services will be ready round-the-clock to help patients in cases of emergency. We have also asked civil surgeons and collectors of all districts to monitor the situation in areas under their respective jurisdictions. We are also mulling the option of seeking services of private practitioners to treat emergency cases. The health department has formed committees to look into the agitating doctors' demands," he added.
Dr Ranjit Kumar, the spokesperson of BHSA, said: "One of our main demands is that the state should bring salary of its doctors on a par with their central counterparts. Life saving drugs should be made available to all government hospitals and we want security. If the government does not meet our demands, we will go on an indefinite strike from February 14."
Dr A.K. Thakur, the president of the IMA's state chapter, said: "Our organisation supports supports the BHSA strike and many of our members will stay away from work on January 15 and 16. The patients might not find doctors in the outpatient departments of the government hospitals. We have, however, kept emergency services out of the strike's purview."
Dr Sunil Keshri, who is associated with the Raghopur primary health centre, said: "We receive around 300 delivery- and injury-related cases. Obviously, patients will suffer because of the strike. But we are helpless. I am a regular doctor, but I can understand the agony of those on contract. Despite serving for years, they get lesser salary than us."
He added: "There are 9,000 sanctioned posts of doctors in the government hospitals, but only 3,500 doctors are working. The salary of contractual doctors is also lesser than their counterparts in other states. In Haryana and Gujarat, a contractual doctor gets around Rs 55,000 a month. In Bihar, the amount is Rs 30,000."
A PMCH doctor said: "The primary health centres and the referral hospitals would receive many emergency cases, which would be referred to government hospitals."
Talks were on till late in the evening between the health department officials and the agitating doctors to call off the strike.