One of them was associated with the hospital for over 15 years in two phases. The other was posted elsewhere when the government chose to entrust him with the task of giving shape to it.
On Thursday, both Prasanta Kumar Sarkar, who helped B.C. Roy Memorial Hospital for Children find its feet in the 1960s, and Madhurima Lahiri, who left it in 1990 as head of its paediatric medicine department, came together with other noted paediatricians to release the result of an independent inquiry into the record number of deaths at the hospital last month. The infrastructure of the hospital, where 14 babies died on September 1 and 2, and where 18 more fatalities were recorded between September 17 and 20, fell woefully short of the “referral” tag it had “earned”, they said. It was not sufficient for even a district-level hospital.
The inquiry committee — constituted by the Haspatal o Janaswasthya Raksha Committee and comprising, besides Sarkar and Lahiri, noted paediatricians like G.B. Banik and Swadesh Banerjee and Medical College and Hospital ex-principal Ashim Kumar Raychaudhuri, among others — visited the hospital despite the government’s best efforts to prevent it.
The conditions were “appalling”, they added. Despite being a teaching hospital, it did not have a principal, a vice-principal, accounts officer, finance officer or secretary till the multiple deaths last month. Almost one-third of the teaching posts (five of 18) and three of the five RMO posts were vacant as well and, consequently, the burden of attending to more patients than there were beds available fell on the existing staff. “The failure to carry oxygen cylinders from the first to the second floor exemplified the scarcity of hands,” the report said. That the government did not feel the necessity to set up a special-care neo-natal unit and an intensive-care unit added to the problems. “The scenario (one bed accommodating three children) was ideal for cross-infection,” the team found out.
Some “basic requirements” (like clean water, proper facilities for mothers being forced to stay with their babies and an intercom system) were absent, the report said. After the multiple deaths, some face-saving measures were taken, in some cases with funds diverted from other hospitals. But the more important factors — like an improvement in the health staff-patient ratio, safe drinking water, medical investigations, incubators and ventilators and an overall improvement in the environment — were ignored, the report says.