By Alasdair Pal and Subrata Nagchoudhury
NEW DELHI/KOLKATA, June 17 (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of doctors across India went on strike on Monday demanding better working conditions, the country's top medical body said, as the outrage over lax security conditions at hospitals escalated.
The nationwide protests, affecting hundreds of hospitals, started after an attack at a medical college in West Bengal state a week ago. The attack left three junior doctors seriously injured after a dispute with a family whose relative had died.
The incident resonated with Indian doctors, many of whom are poorly paid and overworked compared with their foreign counterparts.
Thousands of doctors protested outside hospitals across India on Monday, holding placards and wearing black arm bands and bloodied mock bandages.
The Indian Medical Association (IMA), that represents more than 300,000 doctors and half-a-million junior doctors, medical students and other staff, said almost all of its members, apart from those providing emergency services, have joined the protests.
"Practically, the entire medical fraternity is on strike," Dr RV Asokan, the IMA's honorary general secretary told Reuters on Monday. "Everybody is on the street."
The IMA is demanding tougher punishments for those who attack doctors, as well as higher recruitment to support the overworked staff.
A doctor in an outpatient unit in India often saw more than 100 patients in a day, Asokan said, and despite tens of thousands of junior doctors graduating every year, many were out of work.
"The workload of doctors is inhuman," he said. "The government is not recruiting enough."
Doctors, who have been protesting in West Bengal ever since the attack a week ago, were due to hold talks with the government after the state authorities permitted the media to cover the meeting.
There were queues at Ernakulam Government Hospital in the southern state of Kerala on Monday morning, as patients waited to consult the limited number of doctors who were on duty.
(Reporting by Alasdair Pal in NEW DELHI and Subrata Nagchoudhury in KOLKATA, additional reporting by Sivaram V in KOCHI and Jatindra Dash in BHUBANESWAR; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Sherry Jacob-Phillips)
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