Patna: Amid rising cases of COVID-19 in Bihar, more than 400 members of the contractual nursing staff of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Patna had gone on strike on Thursday morning. They demanded a hike in salaries and that they be provided with all the facilities given to permanent staff members.
Miffed with the lack of job security and their low salaries, the nursing staffers staged protests outside the main gate of AIIMS, Patna. They shouted slogans for over three hours and have refused to rejoin work till their demands are fulfilled.
The strike is likely to affect the ongoing treatment of hundreds of COVID-19 patients at the medical institute. A week ago, AIIMS Patna was designated as a COVID-19 hospital by the state government. It is one of four government-run hospitals designated as a COVID-19 hospital in Bihar. The others are Nalanda Medical College and Hospital (NMCH) in Patna, Anugrah Narayan Medical College and Hospital in Gaya district and the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College and Hospital in Bhagalpur district.
“We have been working day and night in the special COVID-19 wards and risking our lives, but we continue to remain neglected. We protested for a hike in salary and other facilities like those availed by members of the permanent nursing staff,” said Devendar Kumar, a member of the nursing staff who was at the protest.
Nisha Pandey, another protester, expressed her unhappiness over the apathy of officials who refuse to recognise their work. “We have no job security; we have nothing to prove that we have been working here for between five to seven years – since the inception of AIIMS Patna,” she said.
The protesting members of the nursing staff said they should get equal pay for equal work. They added that contractual nursing staffers should be given leave and other facilities like permanent staff members and that they should be treated as staff members of AIIMS Patna.
The contractual staffers also alleged that neither they, nor their family members, have been allowed admission or treatment at AIIMS Patna, despite them working day and night since the outbreak of COVID-19.
They said that they had gone on strike for a few hours last week and had returned to work after assurances by the authorities, led by Dr. Prabhat Kumar Singh, the Director of AIIMS Patna. However, they said that despite submitting a memorandum to him, nothing came of it.
Due to the ongoing strike, there has been heavy deployment of security forces outside the hospital.
On the night of July 21, nurses from the Patna-based NMCH, the first COVID-19-designated hospital in Bihar, boycotted work for a few hours and staged a protest after relatives of COVID-19 patients misbehaved and assaulted a few nurses on duty. They later returned to work.
A day after Rati Raman Jha, a civil surgeon from Samastipur district, died at AIIMS Patna due to COVID-19, the Bihar Health Services Association (BHSA) threatened to boycott work if its demand of improving health infrastructure and investing in human resources was not met.
Jha was the first surgeon and the fourth doctor to have succumbed to the infection in Bihar.
Dr. Ajay Kumar, former president of BHSA and its advisor, said its doctors would wear black badges and resort to a hunger strike ahead of boycotting work. “Doctors will have to launch a phase-wise protest if the government continues to ignore our demands,” he said.
Dr. Ranjit Kumar, general secretary of the BHSA, said the doctors and healthcare staffers are feeling uneasy about the situation, mentioning that the government has not acted on their suggestions to control the pandemic. “It is a matter of grave concern as a large number of doctors and healthcare staffers are getting infected. As of now, three more civil surgeons and 40 doctors, who have been infected by COVID-19, are undergoing treatment at AIIMS Patna,” he added.
Last week, the Indian Medical Association (IMA), Bihar, blamed the state government for an acute staff shortage, including of doctors, and of poor infrastructure at government-run hospitals that are treating COVID-19 patients. They said that all of this was leading to doctors getting infected.
According to Dr. Kumar, nearly 400 doctors and healthcare workers have been infected by COVID-19 in the state so far.
As per official data available with the state’s Health Department, there were 30,066
cases of COVID-19 in the state as of July 22. Nineteen more deaths due to the virus took the death toll to 208 in the state.
Bihar reported 1,502 cases on Wednesday (July 22), including 452 cases in Patna, which was its highest single-day spike till date. Earlier, the highest number of cases in a single day was 1,432, on July 14.
Bihar has increased its testing rate after lagging behind other states for nearly three months. Official data shows that the state has one of the lowest testing rates in the country.
However, five days after Chief Minister Nitish Kumar asked concerned authorities to double the number of COVID-19 tests from 10,000 to 20,000 per day, Bihar tested 10,303 samples on July 21 and 10,159 samples on July 22.