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Singh ‘insisted’ on AIIMS

New Delhi, Jan. 24: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chose to have his heart surgery at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences despite questions about the capability of the institution to offer the complex procedure he underwent today.

Medical experts had pointed out that AIIMS lacks adequate experience in beating-heart surgeries or repeat bypass procedures which are technically more challenging than a surgery assisted with a heart-lung machine or a first-time bypass.

“He (Singh) had advice from several quarters... but he chose to have the operation in New Delhi and at AIIMS,” a senior member of his medical team said.

A senior cardiothoracic surgeon said the lack of experience at AIIMS was a “serious concern” and had prompted some experts to suggest that the Prime Minister consider getting the surgery done elsewhere within India or abroad.

“It appears that he felt that he should not let down a public institution,” said the cardiothoracic surgeon. “It is an honourable decision, but when a patient can have access to the best medical care... the question is whether this is the best decision.”

A team from AIIMS and the Asian Heart Institute, Mumbai, jointly conducted the surgery. The AHI group was led by cardiothoracic surgeon Ramakanta Panda who has the highest experience of repeat bypass surgeries in India. The surgical team included several doctors from AIIMS and AHI and paramedical staff and nurses from both institutions.

Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said Singh’s decision to have the surgery at the AIIMS was “entirely in line with his character”. “He believes that as an Indian citizen, he should have faith in an Indian institution and in Indian doctors,” a source said.

AIIMS doctors said they requested the AHI team to join them to be able to offer the best possible treatment available to the Prime Minister. “It was my business to put together a team to give the Prime Minister the best of high quality care possible,” said Sampath Kumar, head of cardiothoracic sciences at AIIMS.

But not everyone was happy with the arrival of doctors from private institutions into AIIMS. “This is a premier public institution.... We should have been able to offer such high quality care on our own,” one resident doctor said.

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