The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Three warnings that failed to cure SSKM

The heads may have started to roll at SSKM Hospital after Susmita Biswas died at the doors of the emergency ward waiting for treatment for over nine hours, but the government had received warnings about the state of the department not once but thrice.

The Medical Council of India (MCI) had repeatedly pointed out that the emergency department of SSKM Hospital was in a shambles.

In fact, the sorry state of the emergency wing was one of the main reasons why the SSKM authorities lost their battle to secure an additional 100 medical seats at the undergraduate level. The department has been the bone of contention between the authorities and the MCI for over two years now. Susmita’s death has proved how nothing has changed despite the warnings.

The first time an MCI team visited the hospital was way back in 2001 to inspect whether SSKM Hospital had the requisite infrastructure in all departments, especially the University College of Medicine (UCM) and the emergency wing.

Later, in their report to the union health ministry, the MCI had explained how appalling the situation was in the emergency wing. In subsequent inspections, carried out in 2002 and in March 2003, the MCI levelled similar charges against the emergency wing. According to the council, it lacked space, infrastructure, manpower and, above all, the attitude to treat patients with sympathy. On one occasion, the medicines were found to be outdated.

Acknowledging that the MCI had pointed out the lapses, the government set about the task of rectifying the major problems raised by the council. But surprisingly, other than the addition of a few beds, the emergency wing was kept out of its makeover plans.

After two more inspections, the MCI in September 2003 announced that apart from the shortcomings in the UCM, the emergency wing of the hospital was over-crowded and cramped, requiring a major overhaul for proper treatment of patients.

Despite so many pointers, the emergency department continues to be in the doldrums where chaos prevails over cure. And Susmita’s death has changed nothing except the faces in the hotseats. The surgeon superintendent of the hospital, Debdwaipayan Chattopadhyay, may have been removed, but the broken folding cots and outdated equipment that do not work when required are all there.

Touts still rule the roost, and everything, from saline bottles to beds, is available for a price. A bed or at least a floor space in any department of the hospital carries an unofficial price tag in the range of Rs 200-700, depending on the financial status of the patient. Police officers are mute witnesses to the anarchy prevailing in the wing. It was here that Susmita bled to death. If another Susmita comes, she may have to face a similar fate.

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