Two recent deaths at govt. hospitals have highlighted the need to focus on safety features

When a teenage boy fell through a shaft meant for plumbers to check pipelines at the peripheral hospital in Perambur in January, it was history repeating itself.

In a similar incident two years ago at the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital, an elderly man who had accompanied his sick son to the toilet died after falling through a similar shaft.

In both incidents, the patients or their attendants were blamed by hospital authorities. But what have hospitals done to ensure better facilities or safer environs for their patients?

After the Perambur incident, health department officials in charge of the facility found fault with the structural design of the building. Why would a hospital design an opening wide enough for someone to climb through, in one of its toilets? And if it did so, why would it then cover the ledge with an easily-removable plastic door?

According to hospital staff, the ledge in the men’s toilet is now serving another purpose — a location for patients to consume alcohol without being caught in the act.

If so, then the authorities should have fixed the opening immediately. Neither the staff aware of the problem nor the patients who use the toilet bothered to raise the issue.

Doctors at the Perambur hospital maintain that there is no dearth of funds and blame the Public Works Department for not maintaining the facility. The hospital has a dedicated anaesthetist, as well as orthopaedic, ENT and ophthalmic surgeons who perform operations regularly. Senior doctors say that surgeons performing below par are moved to the casualty department where the workload is heavy. “We have a performance assessment system and those who do less than the required surgeries are shifted to the outpatient or casualty department,” a hospital official said said the hospital authority.

The truth however, is that the peripheral hospitals are cash-strapped. At the peripheral hospital in K.K. Nagar, when the power supply is suspended, sometimes even the room of the head of the institution remains in darkness. Obviously, the funds allotted for the maintenance of the building are barely sufficient to address the requirements.

The predicament of these medical institutions could be addressed at least partially, if they become part of the government’s insurance scheme. This would bring in more patients and would also net revenue for the hospitals. At present, the insurance scheme benefits are limited to district headquarters hospitals and above. Perhaps when the government expands its insurance scheme to cover peripheral hospitals, they will also benefit.

But then, will more money really improve safety features? Hospital staff should be accountable for their workplace safety. The Government Royapettah Hospital has generator rooms behind its buildings and its rusted shutters are convenient for cats to burrow in. During an operation to rid hospital premises of cats and dogs, Blue Cross Society workers had a tough time snaring cats. They slithered through the shutters and the workers left empty-handed.

When this is pointed out, hospital staff immediately become defensive saying patients who come from abject poverty are in fact getting five-star facilities like air-conditioned rooms.

But the point is, patients are sick, and hardly aware of their surroundings. They constantly worry about losing their jobs and livelihoods. All they want is to get better and return home. Just like the teenager at Perambur.

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