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Not just Covid, India’s junior doctors are also struggling with pay cuts & delayed salaries

Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital is hiring residents for Rs 25,000-35,000 less than pre-pandemic stipend. Doctors across states say govts are insensitive to their financial instability.

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New Delhi: To tackle the massive second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital — one of the country’s largest central government-run facilities — is recruiting junior and senior resident doctors on a contractual basis. They are to be deployed at a new 46-bed makeshift Covid facility expected to come up in the hospital premises.

While Safdarjung Hospital has invited applications for 96 posts, the salary on offer has outraged resident doctors, who say the stipend on offer is Rs 25,000-35,000 less than what they would get before the pandemic. They also say that the circular is only the latest example of the government’s insensitivity to the financial instability that doctors are facing since Covid-19 struck.

Speaking to ThePrint, Federation of Resident Doctors Association (FORDA) president Dr Manish, who also heads the Safdarjung Hospital Resident Doctors Association, said the consolidated monthly pay for senior residents is Rs 1,25,000, while for junior residents, it is Rs 1,10,000. However, according to the hospital’s 12 May circular, contractual recruitment for six months for these 96 posts at the makeshift facility will be Rs 90,000 for senior residents and Rs 85,000 for junior residents (non-PG).

Contrast this with an advertisement for contractual hiring issued by Karnataka’s Ballari district administration for a makeshift 1,000-bed Covid facility in Torangallu — it has offered salaries as high as Rs 4 lakh for super specialists and Rs 1 lakh for MBBS-degree holders.

Officials in the Ballari administration said the high salaries are being offered to incentivise doctors. “A week back, we had issued a similar advertisement with Rs 2.5 lakh salary for specialists but we did not receive any applications. That is why we are offering this revised high salary to incentivise doctors,” said an official who did not wish to be named.

ThePrint reached Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan and Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal for comments through phone calls but did not receive any response. Calls and an email sent to Safdarjung Hospital’s Medical Superintendent Dr S.V. Arya also went unanswered.

Also read: Not all doctors think putting medical, nursing students on Covid duty is practical. Here’s why

Lack of incentives

Safdarjung Hospital’s circular also doesn’t offer any incentives for the resident doctors to be recruited.

Besides the lower pay, it makes no mention of preferential selection for future permanent government jobs, which was announced by the Prime Minister’s Office earlier this month to incentivise doctors to take on Covid duty. Nor does it say anything about the commendation certificate promised to doctors for completing 100 days of Covid duty.

Doctors say the circular is only the latest in a slew of token measures by the government to increase manpower.

“The circular doesn’t promise anything. They have reduced the pay by Rs 15,000-20,000 but the working hours remain the same. The government should incentivise doctors with proper pay,” said Dr Manish.

“What will we do with a 100-day Covid duty certificate? We need a separate risk hazard allowance that will protect doctors who get infected. But instead, they are cutting our pay. The government is being increasingly insensitive to doctors, even as doctors are getting infected and dying.”

Outside the national capital too, doctors said it is their duty to work in a pandemic, but it is also the government’s duty to ensure their financial stability.

“If there is war, we send armed forces. Similarly, in a pandemic, if doctors don’t work, then who will? But the government should ensure financial stability for doctors and compensate for our academic loss. They will spend crores on commendation certificates, but won’t give us our fees. We are ready to work, but they need to pay us adequately,” said Dr Arun Ghule, member of the Maharashtra Resident Doctors Association.

Existing issues

Resident doctors on Covid duty are also battling non-payment of salaries and delayed stipends. The Resident Doctors’ Association at AIIMS, New Delhi, has been demanding payment for 65 foreign national doctors, who are all from Nepal.

One of these Nepalese nationals, who did not wish to be named, told ThePrint that 14 of these foreign nationals got infected in the last month alone.

“Despite working in such a notable institution, we have to rely on our parents and partners for money. We are giving our services to this nation during a pandemic; we should be taken seriously,” he said on the condition of anonymity.

AIIMS RDA president Dr Amandeep Singh said he had written to the PMO highlighting this issue.

“The student body had written to the administration requesting that an honorarium amount be given to foreign nationals during the pandemic which the administration refused. These doctors share our caseload and have sacrificed the comfort of home to work alongside us. They should be paid equally. The fact that the administration is being so adamant about it baffles me,” Singh said.

This is not an issue limited to Delhi either. Resident doctors across the country have complained about lack of financial stability amid the pandemic, despite serving on the frontlines.

In Mumbai, resident doctors led a social media movement earlier this month demanding payment of stipend arrears.

“We were getting a monthly stipend of Rs 10,000 for Covid duty since May 2020, but that was stopped in January 2021 when the government said Covid has ended. While the BMC has promised to give us the stipend and issued an official circular as well, we still haven’t got the money,” said Dr Shruti M., a resident doctor at KEM Hospital.

ThePrint reached BMC’s additional municipal commissioner Suresh Kakani through phone calls, but did not get a response.

The Tamil Nadu RDA too complained about delayed stipends earlier this month. “Our stipends were getting delayed for six months. It was only after we wrote a letter to the state government that they decided to credit our stipends earlier this month,” said a resident doctor at Chennai’s Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital, who is also a member of the RDA, on the condition of anonymity.

Also read: ‘Oxygen crisis to attacks on doctors, who is going to control this’: IMA asks govt to ‘wake up’

Demand for ‘one nation, one stipend’

One of the biggest issues resident doctors highlight is the different pay they get in different states. Data shared by FORDA reveals that the average stipend varies from Rs 39,500 per month in Tamil Nadu to Rs 85,633 in Gujarat.

Other states on the low end of the scale are Himachal Pradesh (Rs 40,000), Andhra Pradesh (Rs 46,534), Telangana (Rs 46,534) and West Bengal (Rs 47,097). On the other end, Jharkhand (Rs 83,398) follows Gujarat, with UP third (Rs 81,366), Delhi fourth (Rs 81,309) and Bihar fifth (Rs 75,600).

The Tamil Nadu RDA has written to Chief Minister M.K. Stalin on 17 May, demanding that residents’ stipend be brought at par with other states.

“The Tamil Nadu government pays at least Rs 20,000-30,000 less than other states. We are putting our lives at risk, so we want both regularised as well as increased stipend,” the resident doctor from Chennai quoted above added.

A similar complaint has been raised by resident doctors in Karnataka, who say their stipend is lower than other states. “We need standardised stipends and a system of one nation, one stipend. Whenever we approach the central government, they say health is a state subject. Karnataka government medical college fees are one of the highest in the country, but our stipend is not at par with many states,” said Dr Dayananda Sagar L., president of the Karnataka RDA.

While Tamil Nadu government officials who didn’t want to be identified said they would take a “considered view” of the RDA’s request, officials in Karnataka didn’t respond to requests for comment. Karnataka’s director of health and family welfare services, Dr Om Prakash Patil, was also unavailable for comment through phone calls and an email.

Concerns are valid

P.K. Pradhan, former Union health secretary, said the concerns raised by resident doctors across the country are valid, and their financial security should be ensured.

“If everyone gets their salary by the first week of the month, why not doctors? But as far as uniform pay is concerned, it’s difficult to achieve from the Union government’s end, as health is a state subject. The only thing the government of India can do in this scenario is raise awareness on the part of different state governments,” said Pradhan.

Dr K Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, concurred. “Doctors and nurses on the frontlines of the Covid battle must be freed from medical and financial insecurities, through measures that provide protection from infection, exhaustion and insufficient or delayed salary payment,” he said.

(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)

Also read: 270 doctors across India succumbed to Covid in second wave of pandemic, says IMA


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