An elderly patient from Manikganj waits inside an ambulance before the outdoor section of DMCH as a doctors' strike sends services into a nosedive. Photo: Firoz Ahmed
Services were disrupted at Dhaka Medical College and Hospital, as interns and honorary doctors went on a 48-hour strike since 12:00noon yesterday, demanding arrest of the attackers on five fellow doctors on Saturday night.
They also threatened to go for tougher programmes if the authorities fail to arrest and punish the attackers.
Agitating interns and honorary doctors decided to enforce the strike after a meeting with the chief of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), and officials of the DMCH and the BMA at the Dhaka Medical College auditorium.
The protesters had earlier observed work abstention for eight hours since 1:30am yesterday after miscreants attacked five doctors, who were on their way back to the DMCH from Chankharpool at 9:30pm on Saturday.
Dr Mominul (Pinu), honorary doctor at the DMCH, was seriously injured in the attack while four of his colleagues managed to escape. He is now receiving treatment at the intensive care unit of the DMCH.
On request from the authorities, they went back to work around 9:30am. But services were hampered as they held meetings and chanted slogans at the country's biggest hospital with 2,400 beds.
Patients and their attendants, right, wait for the ticket counter to open at the outdoor section. Photo: Firoz Ahmed
At yesterday's meeting, Dr Din Mohammad Nurul Haque, director general of the DGHS, assured the agitators that they would take the issue to higher authorities and find a solution, said sources.
“Though the strike is on, the emergency and outdoor services will be available during the period,” Dr Iqbal Arslan, secretary general of Bangladesh Medical Association (BMA), told reporters after the meeting at 2:00pm.
Such attacks on doctors are totally unexpected. The authorities have to ensure their security, said Arslan.
“We will soon sit for an emergency meeting to discuss how we can end the crisis,” he said.
On condition of anonymity, a medical officer said, “We don't want to go for strike, but we have no alternative. Security has become a concern for us.”
During a five-hour stay at the hospital yesterday, this correspondent found that dozens of patients were denied treatment for shortage of doctors.
“My daughter Sonia is pregnant. As she was suffering from diarrhoea, we brought her here. But there was no doctor to attend her,” said Aleya, the mother of a patient.
She said her daughter was referred to the Mitford Hospital.
“I do not know what the doctors there will suggest,” Aleya said as she went out of the DMCH.
At around 1:40pm, 16-year-old Mushfique, who felt pain in the abdomen, was denied treatment.
“The doctor said he [Mushfique] needed to take an X-ray, but it was not possible now,” said Mushfique's brother Abdus Salam.
Between 12:00am and 8:00am yesterday, only 20 patients were admitted to the DMCH emergency section, whereas the number usually hovers between 70 and 90.
In the outdoor section, about 820 patients were served while the number ranges from 1,400 to 2,000, according to hospital sources.
According to the hospital authorities, about 920 honorary doctors, 67 interns and 312 government-appointed physicians work at the DMCH.
Dr Khaza Abdul Gafur, assistant director at the hospital, said it was obvious that healthcare would suffer for shortage of doctors.
“The government-appointed doctors will surely provide services, but three doctors will have to do the job of 10,” he told The Daily Star.
Though Arslan said outdoor services will be available during the strike, a medical officer at the DMCH voiced doubts about it.
Health Minister Mohammad Nasim, now in the US, yesterday condemned the attack on the doctors.
He requested the home ministry to arrest the attackers, and also urged the doctors and interns to return to work, said a press release from the health ministry.
It is the doctors' humanitarian duty to provide medical care. They should not go for any protest that causes sufferings to patients, the minister said.
Meanwhile, the DMCH authorities filed a case with Shahbagh Police Station against 10 to 12 miscreants, including three students of Dhaka University.
The three are Meraj, Ashik and Jewel -- all residents of the university's Shahidullah Haque Hall.
The interns and doctors suspect that the Saturday's attackers were the same resident students of the hall, who carried out vandalism in the hospital's emergency section on May 6, following scuffles between a patient's attendants and some interns over using an elevator.
Police were yet to arrest anyone in connection with the Saturday's incident.
“We have not yet received permission from Dhaka University authorities to raid the hall,” Sirajul Islam, officer-in-charge of Shahbagh Police Station, told The Daily Star.
Acting DU Proctor Prof Amzad Ali said they didn't find involvement of any university students in Saturday's attack on the doctors at Chankharpool.