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When doc’s out, attendant in

Mahadeb checks the pulse rate of a boy at the health centre on Saturday. Picture by Chayan Majumdar

Murshidabad, Sept. 30: When the doctor doesn’t come to Gangadhari Primary Health Centre, it is Group D employee Mahadeb Das to whom patients go.

Three, sometimes four, days a week, Mahadeb prescribes medicines to villagers when doctor Sheuli Roy fails to turn up at the health centre. She says she is “tied up with official work”.

The health centre has one doctor and two Group D hands. There was a nurse but she left for Calcutta about two months ago for a BSc (nursing) course.

Mahadeb is a general duty attendant. He’s the man who gets the cotton for the doctor and ushers in the patients. “I bring cotton, bandages and other things when a patient is being treated. That is my usual job,” Mahadeb said.

When The Telegraph visited the health centre yesterday, Mahadeb was doing much more than getting cotton. He was prescribing Paracetamol to a child who had come with fever and a cold.

He “examined” the child — took his pulse rate and checked his tongue.

“I have learnt from doctors at the health centre here. I gave the boy Paracetamol tablets because he had fever. I also gave him some antibiotics which I have often seen doctors prescribe to patients with fever and cold. Whenever the doctor is not here, I am the doctor.”

According to him: “If I don’t look after the patients, they will suffer. Every day, more than 100 people come to this health centre and the villagers look up to me for treatment in the absence of the doctor.”

Roy, who lives in a rented accommodation in Behrampore, told The Telegraph that it was not possible for her to attend the health centre every day.

“I am running a health centre with only two Group D employees. There is no pharmacist or nurse. I have to do all the official and clerical work. I have to attend meetings at the block medical office as well as the local panchayat. I also have to prepare requisitions for medicines, bandages, cotton and anti-septic solutions. I have to go the chief medical officer’s chambers for all this. Patients come at the health centre only for minor treatment. A pharmacist can do this job. That is why I can’t go to the health centre every day,” the doctor said.

The chief medical officer of Murshidabad, Ajoy Kumar Chakraborty, said it was illegal for a Group D hand to examine patients and prescribe medicines to them.

“A Group D employee cannot examine a patient and prescribe medicines. It is illegal. I know there is a shortage of staff at the health centre. I will go to Swasthya Bhavan myself to request for at least a pharmacist and a nurse for the health centre. It will be better to keep the health centre closed when the doctor is not there. I will issue an instruction at the earliest,” he said.

Villagers said they were helpless. According to farmer Israil Sheikh, “If we have to take a patient to another hospital, we will have to go to Amtala, 12km away.”