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Stoic silence after inquiry salve

Fourteen babies dying in two days, smashing to bits the government’s grand claims of a healthcare turnaround. As the B.C. Roy Hospital for Children squirmed in the spotlight, the government reacted with customary stoicism — ordering an inquiry and slamming the door.

“I will not make any comment until I receive the report. I had looked for the health secretary and the director (of medical education) but I did not get them,” was all that chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had to say at Writers’ Buildings.

At around the same time, Mamata Banerjee was carrying out an inquisition of hospital superintendent Anup Mandal in his office, a room surprisingly neat and tidy in a medical centre reeking of decay. “Was there really a shortage of oxygen, leading to the death of the babies' Were there many babies to a bed'” asked the Trinamul Congress chairperson.

“Yes, there is a shortage of oxygen and beds, along with many other problems in the hospital,” admitted Mandal.

“Have you ever told the government what you need'” demanded Mamata.

“Yes, often,” said Mandal.

“Has the health minister contacted you today'” asked Mamata.

“No,” replied Mandal.

After quizzing the superintendent, Mamata was convinced where the cause of the crib deaths lay — with Writers’ Buildings. “Having seen the condition of the hospital myself, I know that the government is to blame. They are making loud noises about healthcare reform, while they play with the lives of our children. They have turned the government hospitals into death traps,” thundered Mamata. Demanding a “judicial or CBI probe” into the tragedy, she warned of an agitation, starting Tuesday.

Under instructions from the government, director of health services Prabhakar Chatterjee will conduct an inquiry into the B.C. Roy Hospital deaths. Some health officials did go to the Narkeldanga Hospital — the only government centre dedicated to children — to record statements of doctors, nursing staff and relatives of the victims. Superintendent Mandal has been asked to submit a report “in two days”.

Admitting that the hospital needed to be “upgraded”, Chatterjee said it could not benefit from the Rs 701-crore World Bank project to develop the state healthcare system as it was located in Calcutta. “The World Bank project was for secondary hospitals, like rural, sub-divisional and district hospitals. Later, we managed to include the teaching hospitals and B.C. Roy Hospital in the project. We hope this hospital will be upgraded by March 2003,” added Chatterjee.

Minister of state for health Pratyush Mukherjee said most of the children were brought to the hospital when it was too late. “They were all referred to the hospital and came here in a critical condition. So, the mortality rate here is high.”

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