The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Fewer patients but deaths still high
- Little has changed: 18 children die in 96 hours at BC Roy hospital

Calcutta, Sept. 20: The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Even as Writers’ Buildings was claiming to have identified the lacunae that led to the multiple deaths at B.C. Roy Memorial Hospital for Children earlier this month, the hospital was — again — recording too many deaths for comfort.

On Tuesday, eight children died; on Wednesday, the number dropped to two; on Thursday, again, the figure shot up to five, and sources put Friday’s number at three, making the state’s only referral hospital for children the venue for 18 deaths in 96 hours.

Hospital principal Meena Basak — one of the many changes the government rang in was appointing a principal and removing hospital superintendent Anup Mandal —refused to either admit or deny the figures. “Everything will be said at Writers’ Buildings by my superiors,” said Basak, wiser after seeing Mandal transferred for speaking out. The Telegraph has a complete list of the 15 deaths that occurred between Tuesday and Thursday, including names of the children’s parents and the diseases responsible for their deaths.

Hospital officials say nothing much has changed despite the high-profile “probe”, the “action taken” and the clampdown on information. Doctors, especially medical officers who are now being forced to work in the indoor wards after treating patients at the outpatients’ departments, today recorded their anger against the “abnormal workload” on them.

Medical Service Centre spokesperson Ashok Samanta said the government’s report did nothing except make “scapegoats” of doctors and hospital staff. “Nothing much has been done to remove the administrative lacunae except some transfers that are cosmetic,” he added.

A visit to the hospital today revealed that the 19- or 20-bed free wards (nos. 6, 8 and 13) still had more babies than they could accommodate; ward no. 6 had about 25, ward no. 8 had 40 and ward no. 13 had around 30.

“The wards are being repaired one by one and, therefore, even the comparatively few children have to share beds,” an official explained.

Among the changes the hospital has witnessed after chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s visit there a fortnight ago are installation of telephone intercom lines in every ward. A portable X-ray, gathering dust before Bhattacharjee’s visit, has been brought out but — with only two technicians taking the entire load (indoor, outdoor and emergency) — things are much the same.

This week’s deaths, say doctors at the hospital, are greater cause for anxiety because of the “worryingly lopsided ratio” between the number of patients and the number of deaths.

For example, the day eight babies died (from 7 am on Tuesday to 7 am on Wednesday), only 165 children were being treated in the indoor wards; the patient-to-death ratio, therefore, stands at an alarming 20:1. On Thursday, when five babies died, the number being treated at the hospital was around 150, making for a somewhat less worrying ratio of 30:1, doctors said.

“By contrast, the number of deaths over which the media went to town in the first week of this month don’t account for much as the number of patients then was exactly double the present figure that hovers between 150 and 170,” a health department official explained.

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