The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Patient dies after wait in vain for liftman

Calcutta, Feb. 22: Tired of waiting for half-an-hour for the lift operator to turn up, Moumita Kundu climbed a flight of stairs to the X-ray room at SSKM Hospital.

The X-ray over, the 23-year-old asthmatic patient walked down the stairs and was taken to her home at Bhowanipore. Only to be rushed back after 30 minutes — the third time since midnight — and to breathe her last this morning.

Moumita’s family members did not lodge a complaint, but their narration of events brought back into sharp focus the callous work culture that made healthcare the biggest blot on the state government’s record last year.

Moumita was suffering from a severe attack of bronchial asthma and was taken to the hospital a little after midnight with the complaint of breathlessness.

Her breathing was laboured, witnesses said, and she had to be given a shot of cortisone. Her condition improved after being put inside a nebulizer.

Moumita was allowed to go home after being kept under observation for an hour. “Her family — satisfied with the treatment and apparent improvement — said she could be brought back within minutes, if required, as their home was less than a kilometre away,” a doctor said.

A few hours after going home, Moumita’s condition started deteriorating rapidly and she was taken back to the hospital. After medication improved her condition around 4.30 am, she was asked to get an X-ray done on the first floor.

With no operator around, she waited with her relatives near the lift for some time. A half-hour later, there was still no liftman. The relatives then decided to walk Moumita up the stairs to the first floor.

The X-ray was through a little before 6 am and she went back home. But the climb apparently took its toll as she complained of extreme breathlessness again. She was rushed back to the hospital around 6.30 am.

She died 10 minutes later.

The superintendent of the state-run hospital, Santanu Tripathi, has summoned the liftman — supposed to be on duty on Sunday morning — and his superiors in the public works department unit (electrical) posted at the hospital on Monday to seek an explanation.

“We will not allow this to go unpunished,” Tripathi said. “The sternest possible action will be taken against the guilty.”

But health department officials said the superintendent’s powers are “limited”. “The super can take no action against the liftman,” an official said, because he would have to route his “action” through the department (in this instance the PWD) to which the operator concerned was affiliated.

“This problem exists in every hospital and the administration knows everything but cannot do anything because of procedural complications,” the official said.

Unionised indiscipline — a recurring problem in most state-run hospitals — has been held responsible for the appalling state of the public healthcare system in Bengal. Last year, a few NRS Medical College doctors had lodged a complaint after they were beaten up for protesting against a liftman who would not work.

Stung by an uproar over deaths due to negligence in government hospitals, the administration had taken some measures, including replacing the SSKM head and purging the premises of union offices.

But the clean-up has run into rough weather with political leaders, mainly from the Trinamul Congress, gearing up for a showdown with the government.

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