The focus was brought back on the resident doctors' working conditions after the death of a Bhandup resident in Sion Hospital, Mumbai.
The Central Residency Scheme under a 1987 Supreme Court order says junior residents should not work for over 48 hours a week. "But half the doctors work over 100 hours every week and 30 hours at a stretch," said Dr Sagar Mundada, president of the Central Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors. Such rigorous duties have the potential of affecting them biologically as well as psychologically. "Human efficiency decreases after 12 hours; after 17 hours, the level of alertness is like that a drunken person and after 24 hours, his mental state is the same as a drunk," he added.
Dr Uma Mishra, a senior gynecology resident at JJ Hospital, said: "We get frustrated after working for 36 to 48 hours and tend to lose our temper." Work overload results when there is shortage of resident doctors which is like the case in Sion Hospital where only 2 resident doctors were handling a ward of 84 patients.
Constant mental pressure and stress leave resident doctors more susceptible to illnesses. "Recently, over 50 doctors contracted TB owing to irregular meals, low immunity and living conditions. The cumulative stress of residency and their post-graduate studies leads to depression," said Sagar. In KEM Hospital a resident doctor slit his wrist last week due to his inability to cope with the punishing schedule.
When this gets coupled with less than satisfactory living conditions, the stress gets worse. Dr Abhishek Roy, JJ Hospital, said: "There are 4-5 doctors living in extremely small and congested rooms. We end up sleeping on the floor due to lack of space."
Even clean drinking water is a problem. A water purifier was installed in the JJ Hospital hostel 10 days after a complaint to the dean. A resident doctor from Nair Hospital said: "Due to unclean rooms, two of my fellow doctors suffered from dengue recently. No rectifying measures were taken in spite of complaining to our dean."
The number of resident doctors falling ill has increased recently: 40 contracted tuberculosis since 2012. Of these, 5 were from JJ Hospital, 15 from Sion, 11 from KEM and 9 from Nair Hospital.