The shortage of doctors in West Bengal has been highlighted by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee during a meeting with medicos in the wake of strike action which plagued the state weeks ago.
The strikes began following an attack on an intern in Kolkata. Initially a state-level stir, the agitation swiftly became a national movement with doctors from other states striking in solidarity with their West Bengal counterparts and the Indian Medical Association (IMA) calling for a countrywide protest.
The impasse ended after a meeting between Banerjee and the striking doctors, during which the Chief Minister heard their grievances and a list of twelve demands. As well as extra security at hospitals, the doctors pointed to issues related to healthcare infrastructure in the state – of which human resources are a major component.
Addressing this issue, Banerjee (who holds the portfolio of Health Minister in the state as well as the chief ministership) said that the state had a shortage of 6,000 physicians, noting “we invited applications for 10,000 posts for doctors. We got only 4,000.” Banerjee used the meeting to encourage students to pursue medicine and called for an expanded number of medical education seats. She suggested a willingness to recruit doctors from other states as well. Her remarks came on the heels of figures recently released which showed that India has an 82 percent shortfall of specialist doctors.
Many have pointed to the doctors’ strikes as bringing to the surface inadequacies in West Bengal’s public health system. The state claims a doctor-patient ratio of 1 : 10,411 – better than the national figure of 1 : 11,082 but still far off the World Health Organization’s prescription of one physician for every thousand people. This overburdening of doctors is an issue that is incumbent upon Banerjee to resolve and her drawing attention to the issue is certainly a start. Whether she will follow through and act upon her rhetoric remains to be seen.