The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Govt prescribes blackout pill

Calcutta, Sept. 3: Betraying little remorse and reeling off cold statistics, the Bengal government today drew up a stiff regimen to treat vocal hospital managers — not the system in which the deaths of as many as 14 children in 48 hours in a single institution is considered “normal”.

As Bengal woke up with revulsion to the death-spiral at the state-run B.C. Roy Memorial Hospital for Children, the government put hospital officials off-limits to the media to check the flow of “adverse” information about the institution.

The tone of the government’s campaign was set by health minister Suryakanta Mishra, who attributed the deaths to the logical culmination of critical diseases that afflicted the children who had been brought to the hospital in a moribund condition.

Contesting the charges against the ill-equipped hospital, Mishra said the annual average death rate there was 3.39 per cent of the patients admitted, which was less than that in the paediatric wards of other hospitals in the city.

“So, it is nothing abnormal. It is not something which happened suddenly,” he said, citing the findings of a preliminary report that was submitted to the government this morning by health officials. He also said the hospital had “enough infrastructure and staff” to deal with its patients.

But the authorities at the hospital maintained that it was ill-equipped and that the infrastructure there was “woefully inadequate” to cater to the large number of patients (see chart).

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee asked Mishra this morning how the superintendent of the hospital, Anup Mandal, could brief the media about the “inadequate infrastructure” without permission from his department.

Following this, the director of health services, Prabhakar Chatterjee, admonished Mandal for briefing reporters and instructed him to stay away from the media. It has also been decided that a circular will be issued prohibiting superintendents of government hospitals and heads of departments from interacting with the media without permission from superiors.

“There is no shortage of oxygen at the hospital,” Mishra said. “Mandal may have become nervous and said so under pressure from political leaders who surrounded him.”

During the day, at the behest of Mishra, a three-member committee, comprising Manohar Pal, joint director (administration), Aniruddha Kar, deputy director (planning) and Madhabi Das, assistant director, nursing, visited the hospital and prepared a report on the quality of infrastructure and support systems. The report will be submitted to Mishra on Wednesday.

Echoing Mishra’s line, state health bosses like Chatterjee, the director of health services, said families with critically ill children would invariably throng B.C. Roy hospital, instead of other institutions where fully equipped paediatric wards offered comprehensive treatment.

The chief minister did not make any comment on the deaths. Asked whether he would like to say a couple of words, Bhattacharjee dismissed the question with a shrug.

But Mishra conceded shortage of space in the hospital. He said the children’s hospital would be merged with the nearby B.C. Roy Polio Clinic and be turned into an institute for child health care. “The surgical ward would be transferred to the clinic which will increase the number of beds at the hospital,” he added.

n See Metro

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