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Revamp of mortuaries on the cards

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R. Sujatha

Surgeons call for better infrastructure, equipment

CHENNAI: Mortuaries in government hospitals in the State are likely to undergo a revamp soon. This follows a letter from the Directorate of Medical Education to deans recently calling for remarks and suggestions to improve the mortuaries.

The letter was based on a report prepared by forensic medicine (FM) expert K. Mathiharan earlier this year.

The report has identified several areas for improvement. The FM departments are severely short-staffed, as few people are willing to work in the mortuary. The staff and the surgeons are paid half of what their counterparts in neighbouring Karnataka earn. Though the surgeons are expected to attend courts, they are not paid travel allowance.

According to FM experts, known also as police surgeons, improving services in the mortuaries will include upgrading instruments and equipment used for autopsy and training doctors across the State in certain key aspects of the specialty, which has so far been neglected.

Not enough experts

Poor working conditions and lack of experienced staff has meant that several suspicious deaths are recorded as accidents, the specialists say. “For proper construction of a case, the medical records must be perfect,” explains a surgeon, who does not wish to be named. Hospitals at district headquarters lack forensic experts and in upgraded primary health centres a shed often serves as a mortuary.

According to the surgeon, there are 25 qualified experts in the State, but at least twice that number is required to provide advice in medico-legal cases.

The newly established teaching hospitals have no qualified persons, though at the undergraduate level the subject is part of the medical curriculum for one-and-a-half years. While women doctors are needed to examine and document injuries in rape victims, the State at present has only two women students and one qualified woman doctor.

The surgeons call for better infrastructure, equipment and qualified staff as prescribed by the Medical Council of India and increased remuneration for autopsies. Though in the three city medical colleges the freezer boxes are as per the MCI norms, they are not equipped to handle disasters, the surgeons say. They call for building mortuaries as per international standards.

Facilities required

Cleanliness is of prime concern, the experts say. The Government General Hospital’s mortuary receives the largest number of unknown dead persons, since the hospital is located close to the railway station and the bus terminus. But, the cold storage here has not been fumigated ever since it was built a few years ago as the hospital does not have an alternative facility to shift the bodies. There are proposals to build a new mortuary on the erstwhile Central Prison premises, says R. Vallinayagam, head, Institute of Forensic Medicine, Madras Medical College.

Currently all that the mortuaries have are deep freezers and cold storage rooms in which the bodies are left on the floor. “We need facilities such as glass-panelled viewing room in which relatives can identify the dead, a glass-partitioned area and closed-circuit television for students to observe autopsy, separate rooms for the mortuary caretakers and medical officers,” says B. Santhakumar, Head, Forensic Medicine Department, Government Stanley Hospital.

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