CHENNAI: At least 15 doctors on Covid-19 duty at a private hospital in the city were allegedly issued termination notices, and a few others contract closure notices, after they protested a management decision to cancel their quarantine leave.
A copy of the contract closure notice, accessed by The New Indian Express, mentions the doctor’s participation in “open protest” as one of the reasons for ending the contract. The hospital, however, stoutly refuted the allegations, stating that its quarantine leave policies are as stipulated by government guidelines.
Quarantine leave refers to the break given to doctors to self-isolate and monitor for symptoms after a period on Covid duty. As per the Union Health Ministry’s advisory on June 18, doctors on Covid duty have to observe an initial quarantine period of one week only, following which they are to be tested and monitored as per ICMR protocol.
According to reliable sources, on August 31, some doctors employed by the Vijaya Medical and Educational Trust (VMET), protested after the management informed them that quarantine leave would be cancelled due to a 'shortage' of manpower. Most of the protesting doctors had been posted in the Critical Care Unit and Casualty ward. Over the following week, it is alleged that at least 15 of these doctors received termination letters, with one month’s notice, while a few allegedly received contract closure notices.
The text in one contract closure letter, accessed by The New Indian Express, reads as follows: “Based on a detailed review of the incidents in VMET over the last week, following the decision to change the duty roster for doctors (along with staff groups) in clinical areas looking after COVID-19 patients, it has been brought to the notice of the VMET management that you had participated in an open protest along with a willful refusal to attend to your clinical duties in the Critical Care Unit for many hours, thereby jeopardizing the care of patients."
The letter goes on to say that the doctor’s “unprofessional actions” had left the management with no choice but to take a “drastic decision” of outsourcing critical care services to an external agency “to continue safe service to our patients”. The letter concludes stating that if the doctor were keen to continue working at VMET it could not be as an employee of VMET but rather only as a contract employee of the external agency.
Elaborating on the “open protest”, a source said that the doctors did not abstain from duty, as alleged in the letter, but assembled together and questioned the management decision.
According to the source, earlier CCU doctors were given three days of quarantine leave following three days on duty. “Doctors posted in casualty and other Covid areas would be on duty for seven days followed by five days of quarantine leave.
Recently, the hospital said that these doctors would have to work without quarantine leave and also do extra hours of duty. So, a section of doctors objected," the source said. "It is difficult for doctors to work without quarantine leave. Many doctors have tested positive and a few have even left the job.
The hospital was falling short of hands and so management decided to cancel the leave," the source added.
Responding to the allegations, Vijayalakshmi, head of Human Resources at Vijaya Group of Hospitals, said that contract closure was a routine affair. “Every month some doctors or nurses keep leaving and new people are recruited in their place. The allegations that the hospital terminated 15 doctors for asking for quarantine leave is totally baseless," she said in a telephonic conversation.
Stating that the hospital was a responsible institution, she said it followed all guidelines on quarantine leave policies. “We object to these false allegations made with an aim to malign the image of such an esteemed organisation… None of the healthcare workers has been forced to work beyond their duty hours," she said in an email.
Doctors are among the frontline workers engaged for six months now in treating Covid patients. According to the Tamil Nadu chapter of the Indian Medical Association, at least 33 doctors have died of Covid in the State.