One reason why the hospitals appear neglected is because of lack of patronage by government officials

The furore that followed the disfigurement of an infant’s face after her death at Kasturba Gandhi Hospital for Women and Children has once again put the spotlight on government hospitals. Together, the four major general hospitals — Stanley hospital, Kilpauk Medical College hospital, Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital and Royapettah hospital account for nearly 30,000 patient visits a day. In addition, the three maternity hospitals and the children’s hospital receive around 2,000 people daily.

Given the large volume of people who use these facilities, their maintenance is an uphill task. GH has outsourced some of this work and authorities in other hospitals would like to follow in GH’s footsteps. But outsourcing hasn’t really helped matters much at GH. This was evident when the health minister suspended a health inspector at the hospital during his surprise inspection earlier this week.

One reason why government hospitals appear neglected is because of lack of patronage by government officials or employees. The hospitals have become the refuge of the extremely poor who have no means for treatment. Though each of these major hospitals has its own centre of excellence, their services are sought only by those who have exhausted other resources.

A few weeks ago, I was at GH when a group of hospital employees approached the dean. They wanted his signature on a letter requesting a private hospital to discharge their relative as the family could not afford the treatment. His condition was deteriorating and the family wanted to shift him to GH.

Doctors at the government hospitals tell me that often, patients come with recommendation letters from politicians seeking admission. I was witness to an incident at a hospital where a family member appealed for waiver of fees levied on a patient admitted to a pay ward.

It is patients and their families then who should pay more attention to the upkeep of hospital premises. For instance, at the children’s hospital in Egmore which receives patients from across the state and elsewhere, entire families hang around in the waiting shed even though only one attendant is allowed per patient.

At least now, the GHs should learn from private hospitals that enforce strict visiting hours, do not allow more than one attendant at a time and ensure that a hospital is what it is meant to be — a place for patients to get better and not one for social gathering.