Around 17,000 government doctors across Tamil Nadu have declared an indefinite strike from Friday demanding a revision of their salary. The government doctors want pay parity with their counterparts in the central government.
From Friday, government doctors say they will attend only to emergencies and life-saving treatment and will not do elective surgeries.
This is bound to affect thousands of poor patients in around 2,000 hospitals including 24 medical college/district hospitals and 1,800 primary health centres in the state.
"Inpatient services will not be attended to unless it is an emergency. Elective cases which can take some more time for diagnosis or treatment will not be attended. All life-saving emergencies, medical or surgical emergencies or any sort of trauma will be attended to promptly by our emergency team, without signing the attendance," said Dr Lakshminarashiman, Convenor of the Federation of Associations of Government Doctors.
The state has employed around 18,000 government doctors, who are now demanding revision of their pay bands. Doctors argue that central government doctors and those in many other states earn Rs 1.23 lakh a month on completion of 13 years of service, while doctors with the same experience in Tamil Nadu draw only Rs 83,600. They say, there is a seven year delay; only when they complete 20 years of service they would touch that pay band and they want the government to fix this anomaly.
Dr P Balakrishnan, President of the Federation, says, "We lose around Rs 40,000 a month, doctors lose around Rs 5 lakh every year. In the seven year delay alone a doctor loses around Rs 32 lakh."
Tamil Nadu presently faces the challenge of tackling dengue with more than 3,000 affected people largely being treated in government hospitals. For a question on whether poor patients are being held to ransom, Dr Lakshminarashiman added, "I can't starve and do my duty when I have 13 years of service and qualification. We've been articulating to the government for four years. Despite a clear cut direction by the court an elected government is not ready to consider it. We're absolutely concerned about the poor man because of which at no point of time we have touched emergencies. If necessity arises there would also be a parallel OPD running to take care of the people."
Tamil Nadu is being seen as a role-model for its healthcare and in its health record. Many government doctors say they get a raw deal though this coveted status was achieved by what they call "The professional will of government doctors".
Dr Lakshminarashiman says, "Health of the people and welfare of the qualified doctors are two sides of the same coin. You cannot give aggrieved professional people and make the health system work."
Recently, doctors had withdrawn their strike call after the Health Minister reportedly sought six weeks' time ahead of his UK visit accompanying the Chief Minister. The demand by doctors would cost the government around Rs 300 crore a year.
Health Secretary Dr Beela Rajesh told NDTV, "Demands are under consideration. We've issued circular to monitor attendance and no leave to be given. Directions also given to ensure no hardship to public."
Health Minister Dr Vijayabaskar did not respond to calls or messages.