The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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For Buddha, a tale of ‘terrible negligence’

A preliminary report and an hour spent with the family of Susmita Biswas on Tuesday convinced chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee that the 20-year-old had been a victim of “terrible negligence” at SSKM Hospital last Friday.

“I have to punish some people,” Bhattacharjee told reporters at Writers’ Buildings, moments after meeting Susmita’s parents and brother.

Susmita, a student of East Calcutta Girls’ College, had been rushed from her Baguiati residence to SSKM at 7.30 am on October 17, with a blood disorder and breathing trouble. She lay unattended for more than nine hours, her parents alleged. The doctors finally decided to shift her to the new emergency ward, but the trolley had no wheels. So she had to be taken in a taxi to the ward, for which the oxygen mask was taken off. This proved fatal.

Bhattacharjee met Susmita’s father Samir, mother Kajol and brother Souvik in his office around noon, to hear “every detail” of the tragedy at one of the government’s premier hospitals. The chief minister, apparently, stopped Samir Biswas midway and told him that the preliminary report he had received from the health department said Susmita’s father was not present at the hospital between 1.40 pm and 5 pm that day.

Samir Biswas then produced a prescription, where a hospital official had stated, at 4.15 pm, that no bed was available. “The chief minister was shocked and asked an official to have it photo-copied immediately,” said a member of his secretariat.

The chief minister then asked Samir Biswas for a detailed account of what had happened at SSKM that day. Susmita’s father explained how the doctor-in-charge of the emergency ward had given the admission papers to a trolley boy and ordered him to shift the patient.

“After taking the papers from the doctor, the trolley boy disappeared for about 10 minutes. When he reappeared, he could not find a trolley. Then he managed to find one but it did not have wheels. When my daughter was being shifted, the trolley boy whipped off the oxygen mask...”

As the distraught father struggled to find words, Bhattacharjee reportedly told him: “Samirbabu, I don’t believe this can happen in a civilised society. I will not be able to bring your daughter back but I will take stern action against those responsible for the death.”

The chief minister, according to his secretariat, gave young Souvik his office number and urged him to contact him whenever they faced any problem.

Outside, a stern security cordon prevented journalists from getting anywhere close to Susmita’s parents while they were being escorted in and out of Writers’. Some photographers suffered injuries in the melee.

After Susmita’s parents left his office, the chief minister said punitive action would be taken against those guilty of the terrible negligence after the return of state health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra, in a day or two.

Director of medical education C.R. Maity and director of health services Prabhakar Chatterjee are conducting the probe into Susmita’s death. The report will be submitted to health secretary Asim Barman on Wednesday.

Immediate action would be taken by the health department, pledged Barman. “The government will not spare anyone found guilty — and that includes everyone, from the man at the top to the staff at the lowest level,” he added.

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