Some 3,000 junior doctors in India who resigned last week amid the country’s ongoing COVID-19 crisis are now back on the job after reaching an agreement with the state government to increase their pay.
The junior doctors — a position equivalent to resident physicians in the U.S. — announced on Twitter that their state government has promised to meet their demands, including a raise in stipends. Originally, the physicians from Madhya Pradesh, a central Indian state, demanded their stipends increase by 24%; after negotiations, they agreed to a 17% hike.
The victory marks the first pay increase junior doctors from Madhya Pradesh have received in 3 years, despite earlier promises from the government.
The strike began on May 31. Four days later, a court ordered the physicians back to work, but some 3,000 of them quit instead, according to reports. After a meeting with the medical education minister of Madhya Pradesh on Sunday evening, the junior doctors ended their strike this past Monday, June 7.
The junior doctors received verbal assurances for other demands, including security for doctors on hospital grounds (in light of reports of an assault on an Indian physician treating COVID patients), and reserving hospital beds for physicians and their families in ICU and COVID wards, according to the Junior and Senior Resident Doctors’ Association of Madhya Pradesh (RDAMP).
The doctors also asked to be exempted from the requirement that they complete a 1-year “rural bond.” In India, medical graduates are typically mandated to work in rural areas for 1 year at a primary care or community health center. But given the fact that they gave up training to work the COVID front lines, junior doctors are asking for that requirement to be rescinded.
“We lost our most precious time of training, learning, and skills development during post-graduation,” Arvind Meena, president of the RDAMP, told MedPage Today. “So, for the loss we wanted the government to consider this period … as our [postgraduate] rural bond service.”
Junior doctors in the region have been protesting on and off since January. As the country’s COVID outbreak worsened, it turned to junior doctors to staff its front lines. Many physicians-in-training have been traumatized by an unexpected pivot to critical care during the pandemic — and more grief than they could have imagined at the start of their medical careers.
In early May, government officials promised the doctors that they would meet their demands. When they didn’t follow through, the clinicians stopped working.
One day after their strike began, a government official sent the names of 468 postgraduate strikers to Madhya Pradesh Medical Science University in Jabalpur, according to Meena. The university administration cancelled those students’ enrollments, barring them from taking final exams.
On June 3, public interest litigation was filed in the High Court of Madhya Pradesh, which deemed the strike illegal. The court ordered the physicians to return to work within 24 hours, at which point the 3,000 doctors working at six government medical institutions across the state resigned.
The picketers met with the medical education minister of Madhya Pradesh on Sunday evening, and ended their strike the next day — also requesting that all legal actions taken against junior doctors be dropped.
For at least 6 months, the doctors have been requesting that a number of demands be met, according to Shankul Dwivedi, the national joint secretary of the Indian Medical Association’s Junior Doctors’ Network, who helped coordinate nationwide support for the strike.
“In my opinion justice has been done partially,” Dwivedi wrote in an email to MedPage Today. The demands that were met with verbal assurances are not confirmed, he said, noting that the group is waiting for their full list of requests to be approved by written orders.
Specifically, Dwivedi said, the demand for police officers to be stationed outside hospitals needs to be met, as incidences of violence against doctors in India have become an issue of great concern. “We still have a long way to go,” he said.