The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hospitals choke on pay-to-eat protests

The first day of the state government's pay-for-your-meals scheme at state-run hospitals ended in a fiasco on Friday, with the authorities at some hospitals being forced to serve the food free, as had been the custom to date. Patients at the larger hospitals banded up, signed protest-letters and boycotted the meal they had been asked to pay for.

The authorities at Nilratan Sirkar (NRS) Medical College and Hospital and Calcutta National Medical College and Hospital, in the face of a particularly vociferous protest from patients and their relatives, decided to distribute the food without levying the charges, officials admitted on Friday.

“There was a lot of confusion among patients and protests by the Haspatal-O-Janaswasthya Raksha Committee,” hospital superintendent Shyamal Rudra said. “We were forced to give away the food without taking any money in some wards,” he added. Rudra, however, said the hospital would “somehow" recover the cost from the patients “later".

Fraser Ward at NRS was one of the wards where free distribution of food continued on Friday, just like other days.

Trouble started in three wards (the surgery post-operative ward, the female surgery paying ward and the male surgery paying ward) of the hospital, officials said, and then spread as patients questioned why they were being made to pay for food at government-run hospitals when even private nursing homes considered it a part of the services and provided it free.

More than 200 patients boycotted the hospital-provided food and signed petitions to the authorities at NRS.

At Calcutta National Medical College and Hospital, things followed a similar course. They first protested at four wards (ENT, male surgery paying ward, female surgery paying ward and the neuro-surgery ward) and threatened a “continuous” boycott of the food cooked and served by a private agency. The number who boycotted the food on Friday would add up to 300, hospital officials admitted.

R.G. Kar Medical College and Hospital, too, saw patients of at least three wards boycotting the food. Two of the wards were in the surgical block, said officials.

At SSKM Hospital, however, things took an even uglier turn, with patients complaining of acidity after drinking the milk supplied by an agency. Lunch arrived in most wards well after 3 pm and the protests continued into the evening.

Patients complained that the quantity of rice served on Friday was far less than what was served till Thursday. Patients' relatives went on a signature-collection drive in the wards, and resolved to bring home-cooked food from Saturday.

Officials said Haspatal-O- Janaswasthya Raksha Committee members campaigned in front of the gates of every major teaching hospital in the city and vowed to continue the agitation till the government withdrew the move.

“This move, the government said, was part of its efforts to improve conditions at hospitals,” committee spokesperson Tarun Mandal said. “How successful those efforts have been are evident from the baby deaths at B.C. Roy Memorial Hospital for Children and Burdwan Medical College and Hospital," he added.

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