The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Missing man blame on ward staff

Negligence on the part of the Howrah State General Hospital authorities was responsible for the disappearance of Santosh Hela, a diarrhoea patient whose body was found near the hospital vat on Monday night, two days after he went missing. This was the finding of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), after taking charge of the probe.

“There is no chance for the hospital authorities to wash their hands of it. When a patient under treatment went out of his ward, how can the staff on duty deny responsibility'” asked one of the sleuths probing the case.

The CID team, headed by Ramphal Pawar, special superintendent-I, visited the hospital and spoke to the superintendent and other senior doctors. They also examined the place where Hela’s body was found.

“Apparently, there is no foul play behind Hela’s death. Though the deceased was admitted for diarrhoea, he was suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis. The post-mortem report confirms it. Besides, there is a small injury on the deceased’s head, which he had received after collapsing. A liquid was detected in his stomach. But we will have to wait for the viscera report to know whether it was alcohol,” said an official.

“But this is not our line of investigation. We have been instructed to find out how the patient disappeared from his bed,” he added.

Around 9 pm on Monday, Hela’s body was found on the ground-floor landing of the four-storeyed building that is close to the hospital’s garbage vat. The hospital authorities sent the body to the morgue. “They had no idea that the deceased was a patient under treatment. They came to know about it the next day, when one of the employees identified the body. Soon, they informed Howrah police station and the cops, in turn, informed Hela’s family members,” said a CID official.

The sleuths are now focused on the period between the disappearance and the death. “The picture is not clear to us. It is still not known where Hela went after leaving his room,” said an official. The investigators spoke to patients in the same ward as Hela’s. “We need the exact time of his disappearance. We are looking for someone who saw him walk out of the room. There must be someone who saw him walk down to the ground floor from his third-floor ward,” said an official.

Director of health services Prabhakar Chatterjee said the hospital ward was overcrowded and it is difficult for nurses and other staff on duty to watch the movements of each and every patient. According to reports reaching the health department from the Howrah district administration, Hela had left the hospital accompanied by another patient.

“They went to a country-liquor shop, where the owner refused to sell a bottle because Hela had a drip channel fixed on one of his arms,” said an official. “We believe there is no foul play,” reiterated health secretary Asim Barman.

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