Mamata Banerjee at the interaction with health officials on Monday. (Bishwarup Dutta)
Patient: Health care
Doctor: Mamata Banerjee
Diagnosis: Multiple system failure
Prescription: Stop complaining, start treating
Mamata Banerjee asked health officials on Monday to stop clamouring for more infrastructure and funds and go back to basics like keeping hospitals clean, managing medicine stocks better, being punctual and treating patients with a smile.
“Ektu heshe bhalo katha bolte taka laage na….(a smile doesn’t cost money),” the chief minister told the 500-strong gathering of doctors and health department officials at Town Hall.
Greed for money, Mamata declared, was a “mental disease” that must be cured for health care to be rid of its endemic ills. “Do some good work and not merely earn more and more money. What will you do with so much money?” the lady who wears a pair of slippers to work demanded to know.
Then like a good doctor does, she dished out dietary advice. “Taka thakle ki sonar chochchori khabo (can we eat curry made of gold if we have money)? Most of you are on a diet anyway,” she said.
“Doctor” Mamata did sympathise with her patients. She agreed that health care was hamstrung by poor infrastructure. She accepted that more money needed to be spent on facilities. She conceded that doctors deserved better working conditions. She promised the government would look into all problems.
But if some were expecting introspection to signal the end of interrogation, they were mistaken.
“Political leaders may be responsible for the present state of health care, but couldn’t my doctor brothers and sisters have taken the initiative to improve things?” Mamata asked the gathering, including health secretary M.N. Roy, principals and medical superintendents of state-run medical colleges, and district officials.
“Do you ensure that all the medicines that you have in stock are utilised properly before the expiry date? Do you ensure that a patient’s bed linen is clean?” she rattled off.
Silence. Not that anyone was expected to raise a hand.
So what are Mamata’s pills to pep up health care? Short-term: do the basics right for six months. Long term: stay tuned for a comprehensive health policy.
Mamata told the doctors and officials that she would continue monitoring the state of hospitals — she has already made surprise visits to almost every large state-run hospital in town — and take appropriate action based on such inspections.
“I have seen heaps of garbage in the corridors of hospitals. Why should it be so? Common sense is all you need to plan and keep your hospitals clean,” she said.
The chief minister, who intends retaining the health portfolio, advised hospitals to seek voluntary service from clubs and NGOs in keeping their premises clean and providing basic care to patients.
A part of the funds meant for the Rogi Kalyan Samiti can be used for this purpose, she said.
“Instead of handing out contracts for these tasks, why don’t you invite volunteers to be a part of the Rogi Kalyan Samiti? There are youths around who would be glad to work without being paid. They might not be able to administer injections because that’s a professional’s job, but they can provide water to patients and remove the garbage.”
Health department officials were asked not to confine themselves to their offices. “Ghare boshe kaaj kora jaabe na (You can’t work sitting in a room). State-level officials must go to the districts, those in the districts must go to the sub-divisions. Sub-divisional officials must visit block primary health centres,” prescribed the chief minister.
Mamata said she wasn’t against private practice by government doctors as long as they didn’t neglect their official duties.
The chief minister had allowed the doctors and health department officials to speak about their problems before addressing the meeting.
Tapas Bhattacharya, the principal of North Bengal Medical College, complained about the reluctance of transferred doctors to leave Calcutta. “There are instances of doctors taking leave for one-and-a-half years at a stretch. Such doctors are of no service to patients,” he said.
Krishna Pada Sarkar, the additional chief medical officer of health in Purulia, said infrastructure in his district was so poor that doctors found it impossible to stay there. “There is no power, no water. How can one work in such a place?”
Mala Bhattacharya, the principal of Chittaranjan Seva Sadan, drew Mamata’s attention to the lack of space for attendants of patients in the children’s hospital. “Political leaders have extended doctors’ quarters, leaving no space for attendants,” she said.
“Submit a report to me on that,” Mamata told her, saying the authorities should have approached her earlier. “I would have given money from my MP’s fund to Chittaranjan Seva Sadan, but you never came to me.”
Mamata later announced that 3,000 beds would be added to state-run hospitals and seven new district hospitals built in Asansol, Bishnupur, Contai, Diamond Harbour, Basirhat, Kharagpur and Jangipur.