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After Serving in COVID Wards for 2 Yrs, 1,800 TN Doctors Set to Lose Their Jobs

These doctors were hired under the scheme, just after the first wave of COVID-19.

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COVID-19
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Over 1,800 doctors who served in COVID-19 wards in Tamil Nadu for the last 16 months are now going to lose their jobs with the government deciding to scrap the AMMA Mini Clinics Scheme.

These doctors were hired under the scheme, just after the first wave of COVID-19, on a contract basis by the former Edappadi Palaniswami-led All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government.

From September to December 2020, they filled posts in the around 2,000 AMMA mini clinics, and handled COVID-19 cases in the state.

Over the last 16 months, the doctors, 1,820 in total, were involved in various COVID-19 duties such as running fever camps, swab collection, vaccination, round-the-clock hospital, and COVID-19 ICU work, and even funeral duty at the peak of the second wave.
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However, now, with the third wave of COVID-19 ebbing, the incumbent DMK government has decided to dissolve the AMMA Mini Clinics Scheme, without making adequate provisions to ensure livelihood for the doctors who were leading the state’s response to COVID-19 for the last two years.

The doctors had been manning the mini clinics from February 2021 to April 2021 after being hired after an exam and an interview process by the district health authorities. The job involved four hours of duty each in the mornings and evenings.

With the COVID-19 second wave peaking in May 2021, the AMMA clinics were closed and doctors working there were diverted for COVID-19 duty to government hospitals in big cities such as Chennai, Madurai, Coimbatore etc., where cases were on the rise.

“I joined a mini clinic in my home district on 26 February 2021. From February through March 2021, I worked in the clinic. But the situation changed with the second wave. Me and all of my colleagues were diverted to the big cities to fight the COVID-19 Delta variant from the frontlines. I was posted on duty in Stanley Medical College in Chennai. About 30 percent of the mini clinic workforce was posted in Chennai hospitals during the peak of the second wave,” says a 28-year-old doctor who was hired as part of the AMMA Mini Clinics Scheme.

“The government owes it to us to absorb us and regularise our posts. Few months ago, the health minister promised that the government would start a new scheme and transfer us to that. But now, they have said that the new scheme will not be announced as the National Health Mission, which was paying our salaries, has not agreed to allocate funds for a new programme,” he added.

He and his peers are members of the Tamil Nadu Health and Wellness (Mini clinic) Medical Doctors Association, which is fighting to get the jobs of the 1,820 doctors regularised.

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Duties Discharged by the Doctors

During the peak months of the COVID-19 second wave, there was a severe paucity of manpower in the government hospitals, he says.

“We were charged with swab collection work, Remdesivir distribution duties, we worked in the COVID Care Centres (CCC) set up across the state….at one point, we were even charged with morgue and funeral duties, which we discharged without complaints,” he said, adding that they undertook duties despite only receiving salaries once every few months. “We were told that the delay in salary disbursement was due to delays from the National Health Mission, which was funding the Mini Clinics Scheme,” the doctor said.

Towards the end of the second wave, the Directorate of Health Services dispatched these 1,820 doctors back to the districts where they were operating fever clinics. With many AMMA clinics turning non-functional, in November 2021, the doctors were posted in Primary Health Centres (PHCs) and Family Health Centres (FHCs).

The doctors were also tasked with running mobile fever camps and mega vaccination drives in their respective districts. “We were put on vaccination duty and we undertook door-to-door vaccinations in my home-district,” a member of the association who wished to not be named told TNM.

Additionally, the doctors also worked in the non-communicable diseases ward, among others.

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An Unjust Move

The doctors say that they have submitted several petitions with the state government, but have been unsuccessful in getting their cause heard.

“On 4 December 2021, our current contract period ended. We requested the health minister MA Subramanian and he extended the contract period for one more month until January. With the onset of the Omicron wave, our contracts were renewed till 31 March. But we don’t know if we will have our jobs after this, despite serving two years to fight the pandemic” the 28-year-old doctor rued.

The doctors further said that they were planning to write the Medical Recruitment Board (MRB) exams to get government postings. The doctors say that the state government had promised to give them priority — those who were on COVID-19 duty would be allotted eight extra marks over and above what they score in the MRB exams.

“However, we have been informed that, currently, there are no government vacancies and hence no MRB exam will be held for the next 1.5 years. Further, the marks promised for COVID-19 work (8 marks or 1 percent) are very less and will not offer us any advantage or priority over other candidates,” the 28-year-old adds.

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However, the state government has argued that there aren’t enough vacancies in government hospitals, which is why the MRB exams are not being held right now.

The Tamil Nadu Health and Wellness (Mini clinic) Medical Doctors Association is requesting the state government to address their issues by creating additional government job postings at the district and block level so that doctors who were working in AMMA clinics can be absorbed there.

“Many PHCs and FHCs need more manpower due to the higher footfall in these clinics. Besides, the state government can also look at creating posts for doctors to address non-communicable diseases in the state, which is a growing health concern,” the 28-year-old adds.

(Published in arrangement with The News Minute.)

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