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Heartburn over heartbeat implants
- New Dutch machine to screen patients in drive to bust push-pacemaker racket

When Shibani Chatterjee, 45, of Lake Gardens, suffered her first blackout within two weeks of having a pacemaker implanted in a private hospital, she did not take it too seriously. But the blackouts became frequent. She panicked and went to Hyderabad to consult cardiologists, who carried out tests that revealed a neurological, not a cardiac problem. She was told that she should not have had the pacemaker implant at all.

Waking up to the threat of “motivated” doctors pushing pacemakers, the government has decided to bust this medical racket. Director of health services Prabhakar Chatterjee said the government is determined to check irregularities. “We will inquire into every complaint on pacemaker implant and take drastic action against those responsible. First we will start with the government hospitals. Then, we will bring the private ones under our microscope and, if necessary, cancel their licences,” warned Chatterjee.

As a first step, the government has decided to screen patients advised a permanent pacemaker implant (PPI) at SSKM Hospital, which is one of the largest implant centres in Asia, with around 700 being carried out each year. Hospitals in Calcutta and its surrounding areas have recorded over 1,700 pacemaker sales this year.

To verify whether a PPI is required, the health department has installed a Rs 65-lakh electro-physiological (EP) study machine from Holland at SSKM. Touted as the first of its kind in eastern India, health officials hail this as a “foolproof” check. “You can say this machine is a statement of our intent to smash the pacemaker rackets in both government and private hospitals,” said Chatterjee. “The EP study will tell us the exact status of each patient and whether one needs a pacemaker or not.”

The EP study machine will tell the doctor about the electrical activity inside the heart and its condition. It will also help him measure the heart’s electrical activity and know in detail the extent of heart congestion, arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm) and sick sinus syndrome (irregular beats). “The machine is ready and we will begin the EP study in our hospital soon,” said D.D. Chattopadhyay, surgeon superintendent, SSKM.

Health officials said a section of doctors received a commission of “up to 20 per cent” from manufacturers of push pacemakers. The price of a pacemaker ranges from Rs 55,000 to Rs 8 lakh. “We will also set up a committee of cardiologists and fix only one or two companies from whom patients in need can buy pacemakers,” added Chatterjee.

The state chapter of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) has welcomed the government move. “Pacemakers are being used in some non-indicative cases, which is highly irregular. We will provide complete support to the government to bust the racket,” said Subir Ganguly, president of the Bengal chapter of the IMA.

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