New Delhi: A sprawling campus with a tranquil environment, Rajan Babu Institute of Pulmonary Medicine and Tuberculosis is perhaps the most desired stop for patients suffering from tuberculosis and respiratory diseases in North Delhi. But, this largest hospital for respiratory diseases in Asia, is facing disquiet after doctors, nurses and employees decided to withdraw their services over non-payment of salaries for four consecutive months. They allege that the decision for strike was taken only after the situation became unbearable.
Clad in white coat with advanced 3M mask, Brij Bihari Patel, a senior resident at the hospital, has some pertinent questions. “How long can we survive without salary? I withdrew my last salary on June 15 for the month of May. We generally wait for more than a month or sometimes for two months for our salaries, and given the conditions in the past few years, we found it normal that salaries were getting delayed, but it’s four months now”.
Patel said their families were facing the squeeze as “our savings are exhausted, our borrowing capacity is over. It is high time that administration paid our salaries. We are putting ourselves and family members at risk in the pandemic for our duty. Even the Supreme Court said that COVID-related operations will be prioritised and no healthcare workers should be denied their salaries, but we find that government bodies no longer worry about contempt of court.”
Making his case, Patel said: ”We have been given the understanding by the hospital authorities that salaries were delayed after the Delhi Government refused to pay any money to the North Municipal Corporation of Delhi (run by the Bharatiya Janata Party). So, our representatives approached the Delhi Government and the officers simply said that the hospital was run by MCD and it has no locus standi in the matter. So, the situation is opaque and nobody is clear about the possible resolution.”
Lamenting the raw deal meted out to health professionals in times of pandemic, Patel said: “When you are treating your doctors with such contempt, why would any bright doctor join government hospitals? This became clear when the hospital recently offered five vacancies for senior residents and only five aspirants turned up for interviews. If the situations were conducive for teaching, training and treatment, I believe at least 20 aspirants should have turned up.”
Elaborating further, Patel said: “Many students who join these hospitals hail from other states. They need to pay their rents, conveyance and groceries. Many are married and need to support their families. We can leave this job and practice in private sector and earn a handsome pay but for people like me who want to teach medicine to coming generations, this would be a blow to our dreams.”
Another doctor who did not wish to be named said: “The stress is so high that we are afraid about our mental health. Doctors who have mandate to treat others are becoming patients in the absence of a humane support system.”
Nursing Officer Renu Rawat has been serving for past 28 years in the hospital but is disheartened now. Talking to NewsClick, she recounted her predicaments and said: ”My son studies in New Zealand and I took a personal loan to fund his studies. We have a running home and vehicle loans. How we are supposed to pay our EMIs. The situation is so bad that even banks have started denying us loans. Just imagine banks denying loans to government employees who were once considered top most priority.”
The doctors are now joined by Resident Doctor Associations from hospitals such Hindu Rao hospital where the COVID patients were transferred to LNJP Hospital after doctors refused to join work over non-payment of salaries too.
The doctors, nurses and staff, however, are resolute about the strike and demands and we work and what we are demanding is just our salaries. It’s our right.”