Will finish reviewing quota for EWS by December 1, Health Minister assures protesting Junior Doctors in NEET PG issue

The verbal assurance was given after a meeting on Saturday, but the doctors have said they will continue their protest until the matter is resolved
Junior doctors at Telangana's Gandhi Hospital on a candlelight vigil demanding the government expedites NEET PG Counselling | Pic: EdexLive
Junior doctors at Telangana's Gandhi Hospital on a candlelight vigil demanding the government expedites NEET PG Counselling | Pic: EdexLive

On strike since Saturday, November 27, over the endless delay in the NEET PG counselling, resident doctors across the country have approached the Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya to expedite the process and ease the burden on them. Speaking with Edexlive, the President of the Federation of Residential Doctors Association, Dr Manish Kumar, said that the Minister has given a verbal assurance that the 'review' process for the criteria for the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) reservation in the All India Quota, for which the centre had asked the Supreme Court four weeks time, will be given a major push, and is expected to be completed by this Wednesday, December 1.

The resident doctors had opted out of the Outpatient Department Services, and that strike will continue until they get an official word on the subject on Wednesday. A meeting with the striking doctors across the country has been scheduled for 5.00 pm today where the further course of action will be decided, said Dr Manish.

The petition against the reservation for the Other Backward Classes and the EWS in the All India Quota for NEET PG at 27% and 10% respectively is still in the Supreme Court. During the latest hearing for the case which was filed by a bunch of MBBS-qualified doctors, on November 25, the centre had said that it needed four weeks time to review the criteria of the EWS eligibility, which was set at an annual income of Rs 8 lakh, the same as that of the OBC criteria. This prompted an objection from the apex court, which demanded a clear picture of the policy from the centre, and said it cannot just 'pull a number from thin air.'
The resident doctors informed the Minister about the pressure and exhaustion they are facing thanks to the shortage of staff caused by the delay in NEET PG admissions. "An entire batch of 45,000 doctors is lost to the workforce right now because of this delay. The resident doctors are working tirelessly 80 hours a week, with shifts stretching up to 36 hours sometimes. The burden is prompting suicidal thoughts in some doctors," said Dr Manish in his communication with the Health Minister. 

For his part, the minister passed the buck onto the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment, saying that the delay is from their side. He said the documents, which were originally going to be submitted by January 6, will now be submitted in two days time, on December 1. The delay is causing a 'disastrous impact on the minds of the youngsters,' said Dr JA Jayalal, National President of the Indian Medical Association in a chat with Edexlive. "If they wish, they can simply pass an ordinance to implement the reservation next year. The IMA condemns the government's insensitive attitude towards the plight of the public healthcare system. It is unfortunate that the government is asking for 4 weeks time to review data in this day and age, where something like that shouldn't take more than a few days. It reflects the mindset that the government doesn't care about students and healthcare," he said, adding that regardless of their personal opinion on the matter of reservation, the doctors simply want this saga to end so that they can be rid of the current 'inhumane' working conditions.

In fact, the Junior Doctors Network of the IMA says that they have been bringing up the matter of junior doctors being overburdened repeatedly to the authorities every chance they get. "There is an urgent need to reschedule the PG programme and introduce mental health counselling for junior doctors," Dr MK Abdul Hasan, the Tamil Nadu Chairman of the JDN told Edexlive. 

In Telangana as well, the state's Junior Doctors Association (JUDA) approached the state Health Minister Komati Reddy Venkat Reddy, requesting intervention in the matter. "We have decided not to suspend services so as not to cause trouble to the common public. However, we have held a candlelight vigil at Gandhi Hospital to mark our protest," said Dr Sagar Dharmasula, President, JUDA. "The hospitals dependent on resident doctors for the day-to-day delivery of healthcare services are on life-support. The present crop of doctors are overburdened and are working at a capacity of fewer than two-thirds of doctors present in amicable situations," said the JUDA. After the meeting, the state health minister wrote to Mandaviya, asking him to take note of the doctor's plight and speed up the review process.

The doctors are also concerned about the warning issued by the World Health Organisation regarding the rise in cases on the back of the discovery of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 and are extremely apprehensive about dealing with a possible third wave of the pandemic in India with the strength of doctors as it stands today.

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