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Bed of baby deaths caught in time warp

Calcutta, March 12: The nature of ailments that led to the seven deaths at B.C. Roy Memorial Hospital for Children may have saved the government the blushes but the toll re-focused attention on the hospital where double-digit death counts were the norm in August-September 2002.

Little has changed in the period, despite the government’s promises to make things better at the state’s apex paediatric healthcare unit.

Nivedita Kolay, two years and four months old, was awaiting a complicated surgery for a perforative peritonitis (a punctured intestinal cover) and consequent infection. Surgeon on emergency duty Bidyut Debnath called member of house-staff Santanu Biswas to assist him. He refused, saying his salary arrears had to be paid first.

Faced with the recalcitrance, Debnath sought acting superintendent S.K. Biswas’ help. The senior physician called Santanu on his mobile and directed him to join work immediately or face the music. “Eituku monushyatwa nei, kokhono maine pabe na (You do not have this much humanity, you will never get any salary),” Biswas said.

It had its effect. The surgery began with the member of house-staff joining work but Nivedita, waiting for over an hour for this drama to play itself out, would shudder to learn later what she went through.

Officials admitted that this incident was enough to tell the world that the world inside B.C. Roy is very much the way it was mid-2002. “Very little change has occurred in the bureaucratic mindset of doctors,” a health department official said.

“That, combined with the very poor work-culture in the staff lower down the order makes for very poor human resource,” he said, adding that it was the hospital’s biggest problem.

The infrastructure has not changed much either. The only difference that several high-profile visits, following the serial deaths in 2002, made is the pipeline for oxygen supply. Officials said some of its valves are already missing or awaiting repair.

Most of the other changes have been cosmetic. An X-ray machine arrived a few months after the multiple crib deaths. But it has given blurred pictures from the very first day. An ultrasonography machine was “loaned” from SSKM Hospital. But the government did not provide a trained technician to handle it.

The list of not-availables still includes equipment available in almost every nursing home worth its salt — ventilators and blood-gas analysers for instance.

CT scans are still done at other institutions and, if parents can afford, at private units. The hospital still makes do with the same 230 beds, despite the talk of increasing capacity by setting up another unit.

In the midst of another crisis, the hospital today made up for these wants with a heavy police arrangement.

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