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Power play stifles hospitals
- PWD staff won’t take orders from health department bosses

Case I: The deputy superintendent of Medical College and Hospital asks public works department (PWD) officials posted there to furnish a roster explaining the duty-schedule of liftmen. No one bothers to reply to him.

Case II: An intensive trauma unit at SSKM Hospital shuts down for “repairs”. Five months later, the status is unchanged. Constant queries from health department officials evoke no response.

The symptoms may vary but the disease is the same. The final diagnosis: PWD staff do not “belong” to the health department and, so, are not answerable to hospital bosses.

The archaic dual-control rule has been identified as the shield that PWD men use not to work and get away with it. And the power play between the two government departments has the city’s state-run hospitals in a stranglehold.

A day after 23-year-old asthma patient Moumita Kundu was forced to take the stairs to the X-ray room at SSKM hours before she died, hospital managers said the time had come for a “drastic rethink” to resolve the health department vs PWD battle.

There’s no need to dig deep to know why change is overdue. An SSKM dialysis unit broke down last Thursday. As the queue for dialysis lengthened, hospital officials called up the PWD. The initial response: the repair would require “at least three days”. Work could not start before Monday, PWD officials said.

The hospital management called up Writers’ Buildings on Friday. It was only after the PWD bosses there stepped in could the SSKM unit be revived. Fifteen minutes after a call, the PWD men said the repairs were over. “This is typical PWD behaviour,” an official said. “But is it possible for us to seek Writers’ help for every odd job'” he asked.

Lifts have a history of not moving at NRS Medical College and Hospital. A doctor was beaten up last year for asking a liftman to get his act together. A former NRS superintendent, now serving at Swasthya Bhavan, admitted that he was asked to “get in touch with our bosses” whenever he tried to make things work. “I got used to subordinates who refused to take orders from me,” he said.

Health officials told Metro they had faced the same problem. “Our ITU is sick for the past five months,” said SSKM superintendent Santanu Tripathi.

Medical College principal Jayashree Mitra (Ghosh) said many of the health department’s image problems stemmed from the PWD’s style of functioning. “They should have some form of local monitoring to check whether their men are really working,” she said.

PWD minister Amar Chaudhuri countered: “I quite expected the health department to blame someone else for its shortcomings.”

Health secretary Asim Barman, meanwhile, has written to the principal secretary, PWD, proposing that all electricians and liftmen posted at hospitals be under the direct control of the hospital authorities.

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