January 4, 2006

Govt hospitals sound death knell for patients

By Shivani Sharma/TNN

Awoman’s eyes are eaten out by ants, leading to her subsequent death in Kolkata. A 22-year-old accident victim in Ahmedabad dies of burns, thanks to a short circuit in a ventilator that was supposed to keep him alive. Amputated limbs of patients are given to relatives for lack of means to dispose hospital waste in Rajkot. In Bangalore, a tube just used to induce vomiting in a patient is thrust into the next patient’s mouth without washing, let alone sterilising. Fresh sheets are spread over blood-soaked bed matresses in Ludhiana to disguise unsanitary conditions.
These tales of horror from across the country have a common source—government hospitals. The heart-rending reality does not end here. And sadly enough, there are no lessons learnt. Only on Monday, a newborn was charred in an incubator in Hyderabad.
Negligence and unsanitary conditions are cited as side-effects of the weight of sheer number of patients and limited resources at the disposal of health authorities. For example, industrial city Ludhiana has just one 100-bed civil hospital catering to a population of 30 lakh. Migrant labourers queue up everyday in foul smelling hallways, but most return unattended.
Dardi Sewa Trust worker Kanubhai Soni, based in Ahmedabad, says one would have to be very lucky to get an anti-rabies shot in any of the municipal hospitals in Gujarat. A patient who lands up at the emergency may have to wait three to four hours to catch the attention of a doctor.
The reason: Over 30% posts of doctors in the state are vacant. “This is more so in the public hospitals in rural areas where doctors do not wish to go due to lack of infrastructure,’’ says a senior health official.
Nurses, too, are hard pressed. Though the Nursing Council of India prescribes one nurse for every three patients, there is severe shortage of nurses in majority of the hospitals, forcing the authorities to rope in attendants to double up as nurses during night shifts. 
Bangalore’s Victoria Hospital superintendent Dr K V Ashok Kumar says they are helpless. “We have 192 nurses for 1,000 patients as against the requirement of 750 nurses to work three shifts. Since medical students will have to be exposed to on-the-job training, often they end up assisting senior doctors on duty, specially during night shifts.’’
Bowring Hospital in the same city may boast of a special ward for the state’s politicians, but there is no ICU and many wards face the mortuary, forcing patients to look at dead bodies throughout the day.
Rajendra Hospital, Patiala, faces 30% shortage of doctors—surgery and medicine being the main hit. According to Jeewan Jyot Kaur, president of the Nursing Staff Union, the nurses-patient ratio is abysmal and vacancies are not being filled.
(With inputs from Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Patiala, Ludhiana, Chandigarh and Shimla)

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