Over 4,000 doctors have gone on strike in the Indian city of Mumbai to protest against violence in hospitals, after five doctors were attacked in two weeks.

Resident doctors who work across 17 government hospitals have taken unpaid leave saying the recent attacks have left them in emotional distress and fearful of assault.

“We are mentally disturbed and unable to focus on our work in such a scary environment,” said one of the doctors, Dr Narish H R. “There has been an alarming number of assaults on on-duty doctors and the frequency of such incidents is jarring.”

Doctors have been left scared and traumatised

The protests were triggered by the brutal attack on junior doctor Rohith Kumar by relatives of a patient he could not save. The patient was suffering from chronic kidney failure and according to witnesses 15 people attacked Kumar.

News of the assault on Kumar spread through WhatsApp and Facebook and shocked India’s medical community. On 20 March this year, hospitals erupted in chaos as hundreds of junior doctors failed to turn up for work, forcing senior doctors to turn away queues of angry patients.

The protest saw doctor’s holding picket signs that read “Save the saviours”, while they chanted, “We want safety”.

Ajay Kumar, a second-year junior doctor, said the doctors work an average of 14 to 18 hours a day and at least one 36-hour non-stop stretch every week.

“After all that work, this is what we get? We’re not even safe in our workplace. Then what are we doing all this for?” he said.

The doctor who was attacked by the patient’s relatives was said to be too traumatised to return to work. Aniket Wadal, who witnessed the attack said, “He is not even leaving his room. He is not talking to anyone. He is very distressed.”

Many patients have been left in the lurch

More than 400 surgeries have been postponed and patients have been told to follow news updates and only return after the protests end. Currently only emergency patients are being treated, and outpatient departments are completely closed.

Riyadh Chaudhury, who was visiting his brother, described how the wards were completely empty.

“There’s only one or two doctors in each ward. My brother was due to be operated on today, he has been unconscious for the last two weeks because of a head injury. Now they’re saying not today, come tomorrow.”

One man, who asked not to be named, was seen walking out of the hospital where Kumar was assaulted, carrying a dead baby wrapped in a green blanket.

“I don’t want to say anything negative about the doctors,” he said. “They’re doing the best they can, given the situation.”

Doctors demand for more than just empty promises

The doctors’ requests are fairly simple: increase the number of security guards in hospitals, and restrict the number of relatives allowed to visit a patient to only two. Though promises have been made to address these requests, doctors say little action has actually been taken.

The Indian government spends 1.15% of its GDP on public healthcare, which is among the lowest in the world. Following the protests, the government introduced a new national health bill that promises to increase the figure to 2.5%. The state has also promised to provide 1,100 armed police officers to civic hospitals from Saturday onwards.

Yesterday however, the State Medical Education Minister Girish Mahajan said, "We are holding negotiations with the Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors members. Those doctors who don't return to work by 8 pm today will stand to lose 6 months' salary".

The issue was taken before the Bombay High Court by activist Afak Mandaviya and will be debated over the coming days. MIMS

Read more:
Strikes held in tribute to Israeli nurse who was burnt to death by patient
Are strikes by healthcare workers ethical?
Workplace violence means de-escalation and breakaway skills now crucial for nursing students