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Politics over patient care in transfer of top doctors

- SSKM loses architect of neonatal hub

The Mamata Banerjee government stands accused of weakening an already ailing health care system through some allegedly discriminatory transfers, just as the Left had struck at the roots of excellence in the erstwhile Presidency College in the name of democratising education.

Neonatologist Arun Singh, whose hub-and-spoke model of neonatal care at SSKM gave birth to a centre of excellence that is being replicated elsewhere in the country, is among the names on the transfer list allegedly drawn up on the basis of their perceived political leanings.

Singh has joined Sagar Dutta Memorial Medical College and Hospital in Kamarhati, North 24-Parganas, as a professor of neonatology but the institute doesn’t have a neonatal care unit yet.

Health care experts contested the official argument that SSKM’s loss would be North 24-Parganas’s gain, saying it was impractical to envision centres of excellence everywhere.

“In any case, there is no indication yet that the government intends using his experience and skills for the greater good,” said a senior surgeon in a state-run medical college. “This transfer is an example of vindictiveness. The transfer has been termed ‘routine’ but the pattern is clear. Doctors who are perceived to be close to the Left are being transferred.”

Singh said he didn’t mind the transfer as much as he did being shifted out of a project that he wanted to complete.

“I will carry out the government’s orders. I have no issues with that. My only concern is whether the centre of excellence will turn out the way I had dreamt it would,” he told Metro.

Director of medical education Sushanta Banerjee said an inquiry had been instituted into allegations of misappropriation of funds against Singh.

So is this what’s known in babudom as a punishment posting? Nobody at Writers’ would clear the air.

Another allegedly questionable transfer is that of Subir Ganguly, head of radiotherapy at NRS Medical College and Hospital. He has been transferred to RG Kar Medical College.

Mrityunjoy Mukherjee, a former head of surgery at Calcutta Medical College and Hospital, had been transferred to Sagar Dutta Medical College soon after the change of guard at Writers’ last year.

“Doctors in government service can be transferred. Nobody questions that. But the pattern in the transfers since the Left government’s ouster shows that the new regime is out to settle scores. That’s sad because this involves the health of lakhs of patients,” said an SSKM doctor.

Neonatologist Singh had taken the initiative to set up a 250-bed neonatal hub at SSKM in 2005 but the project was stuck in red tape until the last lap of Left rule. The Institute of Neonatology at the state’s largest referral hospital was finally taking shape when the transfer order arrived.

“A part of the eight-storey building is ready and the Union health ministry disbursed Rs 8 crore barely a month ago to set up a breast-milk bank. So, for Singh to be transferred at such a crucial juncture is a blow to the project,” a senior colleague said.

Experts in health care infrastructure said a project of this scale could flounder without the guidance of the man who conceived it.

“Human resource is the key to setting up such centres of excellence. Unless there is a man to drive the project, such centres are of no use,” said a Delhi-based surgeon on the advisory committees of several private hospitals.

He pointed out that the idea of creating a referral centre of excellence was to treat the most critical patients there and have the primary and secondary centres take care of the rest.

The Association of Health Service Doctors, known to be pro-CPM, accused the government of being biased. It organised a procession from Calcutta Medical College and Hospital on Thursday afternoon to protest “politically motivated” transfers.

“This government is discriminating against doctors in the name of routine transfers,” said Gautam Mukhopadhyay, the president of the association.

Minister of state for health Chandrima Bhattacharya insisted the transfers had “no connection with politics”.

“These are all administrative decisions. We want the doctors to create similar centres at other hospitals,” she said.

Health department sources said there were several doctors across medical colleges who hadn’t been transferred once in more than a decade. “If Singh was due for a transfer, so are some doctors at SSKM’s radiotherapy and nephrology departments and in the surgery department of NRS. But I doubt they will be shifted anywhere, at least not for the right reasons,” an official said.

The transfer of neonatologist Singh, who had joined SSKM in October 2000, mirrors the Left’s politically tinged education transfer policy that uprooted several pillars of Presidency three decades ago.

Many reputable teachers were transferred out of Presidency to far-flung colleges, the purported objective being to ensure quality faculty in institutes outside Calcutta. But the plan bombed. The teachers found themselves in colleges that lacked basic infrastructure and students who couldn’t benefit from their teaching.

Some teachers opted for assignments in private institutions. Many shunned Presidency out of fear of being shunted out for reasons not related to academics.