A baby girl in need of a brain scan has been turned away by every government hospital she has visited in six months because her unemployed single mother doesn’t have a BPL card or the money for an MRI.
Jhuma Majhi’s daughter Brishti, a year and nine months old, was recommended an MRI of the brain last August after falling off a bed and suffering convulsions that have since become a part of her life.
A brain MRI in a government hospital costs around Rs 3,000, which Jhuma can’t afford. A BPL card would entitle her daughter to a free MRI but she can’t get one made until well after the panchayat election.
Recommendations from politicians that Brishti be treated as a special case haven’t worked either. Jhuma has thrice visited state-run hospitals but the medical establishment is apparently a selective stickler for rules.
“Her daughter will get a free MRI only if she has a BPL card. We can’t accept ministers’ requests. The auditors will raise objections if a person without proper documents is allowed free medical investigations,” a senior Swastha Bhavan official said.
Brishti’s ordeal started on August 14 last year, when she fell off a bed at her maternal grandmother’s home in a village near Sonarpur, on the southern fringes of the city.
Jhuma, deserted by her husband and subsisting on her mother’s meagre income, first took her daughter to Calcutta Medical College and Hospital, where the resident staff immediately prescribed an MRI of the brain.
Since she had neither money nor a BPL card, Jhuma landed up at minister Madan Mitra’s door. He gave her a letter addressed to the director of the Bangur Institute of Neurosciences.
“Brishti Majhi has been suffering from an acute neuro problem and is now under treatment at (Calcutta) Medical College…. She needs (an) MRI of the brain. As the patient comes from a very poor family, I feel inclined to request you to consider her MRI free of cost,” the transport and sports minister wrote.
Jhuma’s relief was short-lived. The radiology department of the institute informed the young mother that its lone MRI machine had malfunctioned and it would take weeks, maybe months, to get a replacement. “Indoor and emergency patients are being referred to SSKM,” an official said.
Jhuma next approached SSKM but it wouldn’t treat her daughter as an exception. “I showed the letter to officials but they told me it wasn’t possible to get the MRI done free without a BPL card,” she recounted.
In September, she went back to Mitra’s office and his private secretary Debkumar Nandan wrote a letter to a private nursing home, requesting a free scan. The nursing home didn’t oblige.
By then, Brishti’s convulsions had become more frequent, accompanied by a nagging headache. Her despairing mother approached Shyamal Mondal, a former minister of state and the Trinamul MLA from Canning West. He issued a “certificate” stating that Jhuma’s family income was Rs 1,000 a month and so she and her daughter should be provided free treatment.
Officials at SSKM again excused themselves, saying their hands were tied.
In January, Jhuma went to Jiban Mukhopadhyay, the Trinamul MLA from Sonarpur (South), and he handed her a letter requesting the medical superintendent of NRS Medical College and Hospital.
“I was again asked to produce a BPL card,” Jhuma said. “I was then convinced that letters wouldn’t work.”
When she approached the local panchayat for a BPL card, an official told her that there was little chance of one being issued before the panchayat polls slated for May.
The rule book says that an individual cannot apply for a BPL card. “The state government conducts a survey and based on the outcome, it draws up a list and sends it to the Centre. After Delhi’s formal approval, the state government draws up a final list of eligible people,” a state government official said.
By all accounts, it is a long process that could take anything between six months and two years.