Saturday, December 7, 2002
S T A M P E D  I M P R E S S I O N S

Denying doctors their due
Reeta Sharma

I offer my unwavering support to the PGI doctors, who have been opposing the opening of evening OPDs. Unfortunately, the remote controlling of the PGI from the Centre has not allowed any director to work freely for the welfare of the institution. Moreover, the population explosion and general degeneration of values have also increased the exploitation of the doctors and harmed the institution.

Unfortunately, Shatrughan Sinha’s announcement of introducing evening OPDs is not a filmi dialogue but a directive of a health minister. He, however, made this declaration without doing his homework about the PGI. It is held that he took this decision keeping in mind the vote bank. It is felt that Sinha wants to please the Bihari and other labour force of Chandigarh and surrounding areas by providing evening OPDs. Even if it is for votes, the facility of having evening OPDs is welcome. But the purpose gets defeated if the intention is not backed by sincerity and judiciousness and, as in this case, is unfair to the doctors, who are already overworked.

Who are these faceless doctors of the PGI? Leaving aside the very senior professors, majority of these doctors are not known except as ‘white coat demi-gods’ by the endless stream of patients. No politicians, bureaucrats or any other heavyweights have ever heard their names or interacted with them at any platform except maybe whenever they needed their services. Most of the doctors working in the PGI come from different states; they have no roots here — in the form of friends or relations.


Besides the pressure of work, these doctors face a number of other problems. While the minor inconveniences come in the shape of language differences and food hassles, the major problems are inhuman living conditions and suffocating work atmosphere. These doctors, undoubtedly the best in the country, suddenly find their dreams punctured, as the very basic aim of doing research, learning and teaching is the first casualty upon joining the Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research. The way the PGI has developed in the past over 40 years, both education and research have been buried under the load of endless stream of patients that these doctors are made to cope with.

On an average, each doctor has to work in OPDs and attend to wards besides pursuing his studies. The system does not allow these doctors to either have sufficient leave or any weekly break or any other diversion to allow them to rejuvenate. The end result is many of these doctors have themselves become patients of stress and strain, and some even have to take psychiatric treatment. As if this was not enough, a few of them have even contemplated suicide.

The accommodation and the living conditions for these doctors are also an indicator that the institute as well as the Centre have been indifferent towards their welfare. In 40 years, they have failed to provide them decent living conditions and nutritious food prepared hygienically. No director ever displayed any noticeable interest in the welfare of these doctors. Till date, they are made to survive on food prepared by mess contractors in various hostels. If the PGI authorities could think of providing a modern hi-tech kitchen with the supervision of dieticians for the patients, why can’t a similar arrangement be made for its doctors? I can only say that lack of vision as well as callousness and indifference have been shown by the authorities concerned.

The PGI authorities, both in Chandigarh and in Delhi, have failed to improve the living conditions of these doctors. The three or four hours that these doctors get to themselves are spent putting up with mosquitoes, flies, shortage of water, poor upkeep of the buildings, etc. The hostel rooms have also not been provided with air-conditioners. The authorities are not only unconcerned about the well-being of the doctors but also suffer no qualms about overworking them. Besides, the authorities have been known to threaten them with an adverse ACR or suspension from time to time.

How undemocratic and autocratic the the system is can be gauged from the fact that when the affected doctors of the PGI went to meet Sinha and the Health Secretary in Delhi to air their grievances regarding the evening OPDs, none obliged them. Like sacrificial lambs they had to just obey the decision of the minister.

From all accounts it appears that the minister is not only being stubborn but also authoritarian. Reportedly, AIIMS has a separate non-academic cadre, which is assigned the duty of evening OPDs. There could not have been a more logical and reasonable way out. In fact, to save the PGI from further degeneration, Sinha could set the house in order by ensuring restoration of research and education at this institute. It is very much within his powers to create a separate cadre for the evening OPDs, which will serve the purpose of providing medical aid to the daily-wage earners and relief to the doctors pursuing studies. Will someone also tell the minister that the 5 pm- to- 7 pm timings of the OPD do not suit the daily-wage earners. It should, in fact, be from 6 pm to 8 pm, as the labour class gets free only around 5.30 pm.

I cannot believe that Shatrughan Sinha, who emanated fire as a leader of the poor, crushed and the exploited lot in films, has grown into a cold and calculating political leader.