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Din of demands, cry of despair

One death in the past 24 hours. B.C. Memorial Hospital for Children started its limp back to normalcy. But there was no escaping the shadow of 14 deaths in the first two days of September.

Even the lone death — far below the hospital’s mean mortality rate of four babies per day — was enough to delay the renewal of admissions, suspended since Monday evening, at the state’s only paediatric referral hospital.

Five-year-old Raj Kumari Gupta’s death (of meningo-encephalitis) brought back memories of Monday’s protests, admitted superintendent Dr Anup Mandal. An unruly Congress demonstration, a CPI(M-L) deputation and grumbles from junior doctors marked the morning and afternoon after the mayhem of Monday.

By the end of the day, however, admissions had stabilised. Parents continued to pour into B.C. Roy hospital with their ailing babies, many of whom had been refused admission in other medical centres.

At Writers’ Buildings, too, there were efforts to give an impression of normalcy. State health minister Surya Kanta Mishra reiterated that what had happened at the hospital over the last two days was not exceptional.

But doctors at the hospital appeared determined to “take advantage” of the media spotlight to demand the “basic necessities”. They submitted a deputation to their superintendent and listed some demands that, they said, were expected to be met in a child referral hospital in “any civilised society”.

Prominent among the demands raised by the Medical Service Centre were a one-is-to-one bed-to-patient ratio, an oxygen cylinder for every patient who needed it and an improvement in the nurse-and-doctor to patient ratio.

Superintendent Mandal himself appeared to agree with his subordinates’ demands. They were the same demands he had been raising for quite some time, he admitted, and said no hospital could function with what this centre had.

The hospital has 24 medical officers, only three residential medical officers and 13 teaching posts. “We need to at least double these figures to function properly,” said Mandal.

There are 89 nurses and over 30 vacancies in the Group-D cadre, he said, admitting that the patient-doctor and patient-nurse ratios were — after dark — an alarming 1:50. Even the number of oxygen cylinders was not adequate.

Mandal, who had voiced his grievances to Trinamul Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee on Monday, further admitted that new-borns often had to be kept in the general wards. “We can’t send away babies who have been turned away from every other place,” he said.

The government tried to launch a damage-control exercise with senior officials, including director of medical education Chittaranjan Maiti, joint director of medical education Basanta Khan, deputy director of health services (development and planning) Aniruddha Kar and joint director of health services Manohar Pal, taking turns to visit the hospital since late on Monday.

B.C. Roy hospital officials said they had submitted details of the number of deaths and the lack of infrastructure. “The report will be passed on to the state health minister for necessary action,” Mandal said. “We won’t be able to increase the number of beds but we will try to reduce the number of referred cases.”

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