Sassoon staff threaten strike if lab work gets outsourced

Govt notification says 17 hospitals in state to shift pathological work to private labs; technicians to be moved to other departments

Workers at the government-run Sassoon hospital are threatening to go on an indefinite strike to protest against the decision to outsource all pathological work. On an average about 1,500 tests are conducted daily at the hospital.

According to a government notification issued last month, the decision to outsource pathological tests is being taken to tackle inefficiency and also to ensure that modern equipments are being used for the tests.

Technicians from the Sassoon Hospital laboratory express their
displeasure at the government's new decision at the hospital's
B J Medical College campus on Monday

The first phase of outsourcing will be done in 17 hospitals and medical colleges run by the Directorate of Medical Education and Research (DMER).
The second phase will include all district-level government and ayurvedic hospitals.

Over 250 lab assistants and technicians in Sassoon have decided to protest against the decision and have threatened to go on a strike if it is implemented. The workers have given a letter to Tanaji Ladake, chief administrative officer of the hospital.

DMER had issued a notification on September 5 and September 19 about outsourcing of work in laboratories and create a centralised system for all the 17 hospitals in the state in the first phase.

The second phase would cover Public Private Partnership Principle (PPP) in existing laboratories for all the district-level hospitals and ayurvedic hospitals in the state.

The government plans to shift the technical staff elsewhere and dispose the outdated equipment being used in these labs for several decades.

Allocation of funding has also been suggested in the coming state budget as per the notification. The Public Private Partnership Principle may start by next financial year, the notification stated.

"Our protest may affect about 1,500 laboratory testing cases in a day," said Shashikant Chavan, president, Laboratory Technician Association Maharashtra (LTAM).
"We are protesting by wearing black ribbons but shall launch a statewide agitation soon if the government refuses to listen to our plea."

All the 5,500 laboratory technicians in the state marked their protest by wearing black ribbons on Monday.

Chavan was supported by local laboratory technicians, including B N Jadhav, Jyoti Salunke, Kiran Ghuge, Sheetal Govavi Bharti Dixit, Aniket Chaudhari, Rajnikant Salvi, Avinash Gaikwad and Aba Kuchekar.

"Of the average 2,000 OPD patients in Sassoon, over 1,600 cases are referred to the pathological lab. Even though the rates in Sassoon are subsidised, the hospital earns in crores. We will not allow outsourcing," said Kuchekar.

A A Mohan, executive president of LTAM, said: "Outsourcing or privatisation of lab is not the solution. The government should be transparent while purchasing chemicals and laboratory machinery as per the market value.
There should be some representation of technicians to deal with the issue between government and corporate laboratories in the state."

Salunke, a lab technician from Sassoon, said that as per the notification many of them could be shifted to laboratories of milk dairies or food analysis department owned by the government.
"We can't work in these departments as our job is highly specialised.
We can enhance our efficiency and improve the quality of work if we get hi-tech equipments like the private labs," said Salunke.

The Other Side
Dr Pravin Shingare, director, DMER said: "We had formed a committee of technicians who came forth with a report saying that either the government should spend Rs 25 crore to upgrade the equipment or outsource the work.

Our aim is to provide 24-hour laboratory services to the patients who are complaining that some specialised tests are not done in government laboratories."

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