Doctors, nurses and paramedical staff in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district have strongly protested against the arrest of a medical officer and three nurses in connection with the hospital inferno which claimed the lives of 11 COVID-19 patients, mostly senior citizens, last week.
The district’s medical fraternity, which includes the local chapter of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), the Maharashtra State Health Nurses Association, and the State Association of Government Medical Officers, as well as Homeopathy and Ayurveda practitioners, went on a day-long strike on Thursday after the four medical personnel were arrested on charges of “culpable homicide not amounting to murder” and of causing “death by negligence” in connection with the fire.
While the hospital’s Out Patient Departments remained shut, no essential services were interrupted during the strike, stressed the protestors.
Alleging that the State Government was attempting to shift the blame on personnel on the ground after the tragedy, the protesting members of the medical fraternity blamed the Government for negligence in not conducting regular fire audits, while claiming that the District Civil Surgeon, who was recently suspended, had sought State funds to set up a fire safety system, none were forthcoming from the administration.
Dr. Anil Athare, president, IMA, Ahmednagar said it was shocking that clauses of Section 304 and 304A were applied against the medical officer and the three nurses, remarking that doctors and nurses were “always made scapegoats” in such cases.
“Instead of accusing the medical staff on ground, why is anyone not questioning the officials of the Public Works Department (PWD) and Electrical Department regarding wiring and maintenance works which caused the fire in the first place,” said Dr. Athare, demanding that the arrested medical personnel be released immediately.
Earlier this week, the State Government had suspended the District Civil Surgeon, Dr. Sunil Pokharna, along with two medical officers, Dr. Suresh Dakhe and Dr. Vishaka Shinde, as well as staff nurse Sapna Pathare, and terminated the services of two staff nurses, Asma Sheikh and Chhana Anant.
On Tuesday, Dr. Shinde, and nurses Ms. Pathare, Ms. Shaikh and Ms. Anant, were arrested under Sections 304 (punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and 304 A (causing death by negligence) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) by the Ahmednagar police, with the authorities stating that investigations against them were on based prima facie on the charge of negligence against them.
According to the FIR, Dr. Shinde was on duty at the Ahmednagar civil hospital on November 6, the day the fire erupted, but had failed to report the incident. The FIR stated that investigations had revealed that the other three staff nurses “were outside the ICU when the fire occurred”.
The police have said that the nurses ought to have been safeguarding the patients instead of waiting outside, while it was left to the kin of the victims to rush inside the ICU and attempt to rescue them.
The protesting doctors condemned the police action, remarking that the arrests had been made even though the committee appointed by the Government had yet to submit its report.
The State Government has formed a probe committee under the Nashik Divisional Commissioner to investigate the lack of firefighting systems at the hospital.
A subtle blame game has begun following the tragedy, with State Health Minister Rajesh Tope claiming that a fire audit of the hospital had been conducted a few months back as announced by his Health Department. However, the task of installing firefighting systems — the responsibility of the PWD department — had allegedly been held up due to “technical reasons”.
The district fire authorities have said that apart from fire extinguishers, the civil hospital lacked a concrete firefighting system and allegedly had no fire sprinklers, hydrants or even smoke detectors.