Government doctors in Tamil Nadu have temporarily withdrawn their indefinite strike today after a week-long protest demanding pay parity with their central counterparts.
The doctors' decision came a day after Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami appealed doctors to return to work. He had said: "People regard doctors as Gods".
Dr Lakshminarashiman, Convenor of the Federation of Government Doctors' Associations, denied ending the strike was a setback.
He said, "We've heeded to the appeal by the Chief Minister. Our intention was never to cause hardship to people. We expected the government to intervene immediately. Now we hope the government would call us for talks and resolve the issue."
On Thursday, Health Minister Dr C Vijayabaskar had set a deadline till today morning for doctors to return to work. He had said if they fail to resume work those positions would be declared vacant and new doctors will be appointed.
With dengue on the rise in the state, the strike had caused huge hardship to the public as doctors attended only to emergency cases. Approximately around six lakh outpatients and around a lakh and a half inpatients get treated everyday in nearly two thousand government hospitals.
Surgical and inpatient wards of the Rajiv Gandhi Government Hospital were mostly seen empty last week.
Besides pay parity, the doctors have also demanded a fifty per cent quota in admissions to post-graduate medical courses.
Tamil Nadu government doctors say after twelve years of service central government doctors earn a lakh and twenty thousand rupees but a doctor with the same experience in the state earns only around eighty thousand rupees, losing around five lakh a year.
The state government initially argued that central government doctors aren't allowed to do private practice unlike government doctors in Tamil Nadu. But doctors pointed out that central government doctors are paid an additional allowance for giving up a private practice.
Health Minister Vijayabaskar told NDTV: "We are considering pay band 4, we are considering pay parity but doctors ought to be patient-friendly."
The pay parity issue, doctors say, was raised two years ago. The matter was even heard by the Madras High Court which had recommended the government to revise the doctors salaries.
"The Health Department in Tamil Nadu has to its credit several firsts in the health sector. The doctors who have played a definite part and contributed for its success must also be given a reasonable pay structure, chances of promotion and other benefits incommensurate with the nature of work," the court had said.
A few months ago, doctors withdrew their strike call after the health minister sought six weeks time to sort out the issue ahead of his UK visit. But the issue remained unresolved.
The health minister did not comment on the question whether this situation could have been averted.
"How can you say patients are affected? Only a meager 10 or 15 per cent doctors are on strike. We are giving uninterrupted service," he said.
The state government and doctors' associations made contradictory claims over the number of medical professionals participating in the strike.
While the health minister claimed only 2,523 out of 16,475 government doctors were on strike, doctors' associations claimed around 14,000 doctors did not report for duty. The Health Minister rejected this and said: "When I give details it's the government's authenticated information."
When asked whether the doctors should have taken the legal route without causing hardship to the public, an association member said: "It's our livelihood issue. When for two years a government is unresponsive even after a court order what can we do? And going to court can be a long battle if the government decides to challenge it all up to the Supreme Court."