Medical interns across Jammu and Kashmir, who are working as frontline workers against the pandemic, are demanding incentives after they were not included in the special COVID-19 allowance package announced by the J&K administration.
On May 4, the Jammu and Kashmir administration had rolled out incentives for frontline workers dealing with COVID-19 patients while also extending the service of retiring doctors up to December, in a bid to control the fast spread of the virus.
The incentives included Rs 10,000 per month for resident doctors, post-graduates and medical officers; Rs 7,000 for nursing and paramedical staff, and Rs 5,000 for drivers, sweepers and attendants.
According to the medical interns, they have been working directly with infected patients and are managing everything – from screening to Casualty to COVID-19 wards. “The interns are working in the tertiary care centres in J&K and fully dedicated COVID-19 hospitals. They are closely working with the patients and are perpetually at risk. And yet they are not being paid incentives. This is highly inconsiderate of the J&K administration,” said Rakesh Koul, president of Indian Medical Association-Junior Doctors Network (IMA-JDN), J&K.
The IMA-JDN, J&K, have written to LG Manoj Sinha highlighting the plight of medical interns in the Union Territory. The letter underlined the paltry stipend they have been receiving in comparison to the amount received by other states. “For working 24*7 every month that, too, in the middle of the pandemic, all we interns receive is Rs 12,000 per month in government college and Rs 6,000 in ASCOMS (Acharya Shri Chander College of Medical Sciences, Jammu). We are highly underpaid,” Koul added.
However, the stipend received by interns in the UT of Chandigarh is Rs 18,000 per month and Delhi is Rs 23,500 per month, he highlighted.
Medical interns are pushed to work with the COVID-19 patients, according to Koul, while senior doctors visit intermittently. Due to this, on May 17, the J&K administration had even directed the senior faculty to increase their presence by “frequently taking rounds of the wards were COVID-19 patients are undergoing treatment”.
In J&K, there are approximately 500 medical interns that fall under the category of junior doctors, according to Koul. Interns are MBBS doctors who have completed their medical education and are currently pursuing a year of clinical practice as an intern. Interns generally work with a wide range of patients, from the Outpatient Department (OPD) to Surgery. However, due to the pandemic, they have been put in the forefront for monitoring COVID-19 patients.
They test the patients, supervise them, monitor their vitals, provide medications and contact senior doctors if there are any complications. But Koul said, the pandemic has dampened their medical practice.
“Before COVID-19, as a part of our professional practice, we dealt with a wide range of patients. But now, each of us only has to deal with a couple of COVID-19 patients,” he added.
The Government Medical College in Srinagar has also written to the Financial Commissioner of the Health and Medical Education Department, J&K, Atal Dulloo regarding the “inclusion of interns” in the beneficiary list of government.
“We are not covered by insurance. What if something bad happens to us tomorrow? We are struggling to make ends meet on a meagre allowance. We promised as part of our job that we would be present whenever needed at work, and we have kept our word. However, the government pays little attention to us,” said Dr Tajamul Islam.
Islam pointed out that the interns are not even provided accommodation which was given to them last year. “Because of no accommodation, we are also putting our families at risk. Even residents doctors are not provided with accommodation. At least, till we are on COVID-19 duty, we should be provided with accommodation,” he added.
At least 100 medical interns across Jammu and Kashmir have tested positive since the second wave of the pandemic started, according to the IMA-JDN.