The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Buddha takes the scalpel to doctors

Calcutta, Sept. 24: The government is planning to equip superintendents of all state-owned hospitals with powers to enable them to streamline the politicised and crisis-ridden institutions.

At a programme to mark the centenary of the Sambhunath Pandit Hospital here, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, and later health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra, provided an insight into the government’s thinking on hospital reforms.

“Every hospital superintendent has a pivotal role to play in improving and ensuring healthcare. He is a leader, to be followed by others,” said Bhattacharjee.

The most important hospital functionary, the superintendent, has lost capacity for work and flair for leadership thanks to politics that has become the hallmark of the institutions, he added.

Mishra outlined the government’s plans in broader terms as he said the superintendents would be increasingly encouraged to take operational decisions independent of the health department mandarins at Writers’ Buildings.

“He (the superintendent) will have the freedom of action,” said Mishra. “There will not be any need for him to run to Writers’ for a decision on every little thing.”

The observations of the chief minister and his health in-charge constituted an important subtext to the deaths at the state-run B.C.Roy Memorial Children’s hospital early this month, as an upshot of which superintendent Anup Mondal and some of his colleagues were transferred to insignificant posts.

Forced by popular outrage, the government had appointed a committee that held Mondal responsible for the deaths at the paediatric hospital. Neither Bhattacharjee nor the health minister, however, made any reference to the deaths that put the government in a spot.

Between them, Bhattacharjee and Mishra touched upon the factors plaguing healthcare in the public sector — dereliction of duty by a section of the doctors and nurses, growing trade unionism, lack of concern for the patients and overcrowding.

“I am appealing to your conscience to treat patients with humaneness and care in state hospitals,” Bhattacharjee said, addressing the large gathering of healthcare professionals.

An estimated 90 per cent of the rural population and 70 per cent of the city goes to government hospitals because they do not have an alternative, Bhattacharjee said.

The high dependence alone is reason enough to keep the institutions clean and responsive to the ailing, he added.

The doctors, nurses and the heavily unionised Class-D employees, who constitute a formidable pressure group in all hospitals, need to be conscientious and responsive to patients and their anxious relatives and friends, the minister said.

Bhattacharjee said: “A hospital is not Writers’ where you can agitate or shout slogans. A hospital is a place where you deal with life and death every minute. You must treat patients with utmost care and dignity, regardless of work pressure. This is not a very difficult job that cannot be done minus government circulars.”

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