The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hospital under Writers’ reign
- Bureaucratic rules take precedence over health norms

Calcutta, Aug. 29: A year ago, a red-faced Bengal government — exposed to a renewed cycle of health-sector blues by the multiple deaths at the B.C. Roy Memorial Hospital for Children — tried to shut the hospital from inside, seeking to prevent a peek into the conditions there.

A year later, the administration has made B.C. Roy look more like an extension of Writers’ Buildings. Archaic rules rule over health-care logic and one-year-olds are made to share beds with 10-year-olds even as other (paying) beds lie vacant, waiting for the odd kid whose parents are willing to pay for a stay in the state’s only paediatric referral hospital.

The Writers’ look-alike features extend beyond the “rules are rules” stance. Most of the promises made by the government to the beleaguered hospital last year remain on paper; and one remains on a vacant plot on the hospital campus, where an annexe was to be built.

Officials say the negative publicity the hospital received last year is responsible for the half-empty state of the lone paying ward (No. 11). They admit that on most days, the occupancy is about 50 per cent.

But those who do not have the money to go to private nursing homes still fill up the other eight free-bed wards. And these wards still have something seen last year and which the government promised would not occur again: two babies — and their two mothers — sharing a three-foot-wide hospital cot.

Officials, however, say they cannot do the most logical thing — shift some of the vacant beds in the paying ward to the cramped free wards — because of rules. “Who is going to risk doing this revolutionary act which, in a less bureaucratic set-up, would be the most natural thing to do'” a doctor working in the hospital asked.

“A health-care institute has been usurped by the bureaucracy, making this hospital appear like Writers’ Buildings,” he regretted.

Rules, however, do not prevent the administration from doing something far more insidious: asking a one-year-old to share a bed with a 10-year-old, and both their mothers.

“Infants are always susceptible to infections as they do not have the immunity of older children,” a doctor said. “What this hospital does is criminal,” he admitted, adding that doctors tried — “as far as possible” — to keep apart children with a double-digit gap between their ages.

“But this is easier said than done and a nine-year gap is as undesirable as 11 years between two children sharing a bed,” he said.

The government, however, has made some changes for the “better”. An X-ray machine arrived last year but, already, the pictures it gives are blurred, say technicians. An ultrasonography machine, too, has been “arranged” from SSKM Hospital; but the cash-strapped government has not been able to appoint a trained technician.

“Results of investigations done by both machines, therefore, are not very reliable,” an official said.

There is no CT scan machine yet. So, a four-year-old girl (Priyanki Ghosh from Debagram in Nadia) had to be physically carried by her father to Medical College and Hospital on Tuesday, when there was a transport strike.

The list of no’s remain as long as last year’s – there is no ventilator, no working incubator, no blood-gas analyser. But there has been one change for the better. Piped oxygen is now a reality but the valves, installed a year ago, connecting the pipe to some of the beds are already missing.

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