Lucknow: Upset over "unlawful transfer", thousands of healthcare workers in Uttar Pradesh went on an indefinite strike from Monday against the new transfer policy for the health employees working in government-run hospitals.
During the strike, the health workers staged a protest at the CMO and shouted slogans against the Yogi Adityanath-led government. They said until the government accepts their demand, they will not return to work. The statewide call for a work boycott was given by the Chikitsa Swasthya Mahasangh, a federation of eight healthcare associations.
The federation said that about 90% of health workers were infected with COVID-19 while performing duties and many of their family members were infected too. Hundreds of officers and employees in the state died after getting infected. The majority of employees are now suffering from post-Covid symptoms. In such a situation, it is not an appropriate time to transfer health workers on a large scale in the department, the federation stated.
“We have been relentlessly working for more than a year and have not got any leave since March 2020. Some of them worked despite being COVID-19 positive. Besides, all the hospital staff is preparing for the probable third wave of Covid-19 and working day and night, as required. It does not really make any sense to transfer workers to other districts. Why can transfers not be postponed for next year? There are many health workers who have either recovered from COVID-19 or have family members struggling with post-Covid complications," said Ashok Kumar, general secretary of Chikitsa Swasthya Mahasangh. He added that it was the decision to punish "corona warriors" and not encourage what they did during the deadly pandemic.
The agitating health workers said that instead of shifting the staff and issuing a fresh list, the pending applications of those employees who themselves are seeking transfers could be entertained. This would come to more than the target decided by the health department for the transfer of 20% of the total staff, they said.
Uttar Pradesh has 167 district-level hospitals, 855 community health centres, 3621 primary health centres, 129 mother and child hospitals and 42 trauma centres that have a total of about one lakh staff.
“Of the total of about 8,000 staff nurses working in the state, the health department needs to transfer 1100 and the applications submitted by staff nurses (personal requests for transfer) are 1500. Similar applications are pending from lab technicians, pharmacists, doctors, and other staff members,” said Ashok Kumar, adding that as many as 20% of these were supposed to be transferred, but this could be postponed this year. "We are ready for the transfers next year once the pandemic is over,” added Kumar.
According to the new transfer policy announced by the state government, health employees who have completed 7-10 years in the same district would be transferred to another district. However, the employees say it should be done only at their own request, and not forcefully.
Kumar said that last week he met the additional chief secretary of home, Awanish Awasthi who assured the federation that the demands of health workers would be considered sympathetically but it was proved to be only a "hollow promise". They were given time to meet the health minister but have not received any feedback so far.
“Our struggle will continue until our demands are not met,” Kumar said.
Echoing similar views, Dr Amit Singh, general secretary of the Provincial Medical Services Association (PMSA), a body of about 14,000 government doctors in Uttar Pradesh, said that when Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself was appealing people to stay home and come out only if necessary, then why could the state government not defer the transfer of health workers keeping the third wave of the pandemic in the mind.
Meanwhile, health workers claimed that despite the Uttar Pradesh government’s assurance of Rs 50 lakh ex-gratia to the families of the deceased employees of the rural development department, who died of COVID-19 while on duty, not a single staff has received any amount. "Despite being a 'corona warrior', we did not receive the benefits of health insurance for medical personnel under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan package," they claimed.