Writer and philosopher Aldous Huxley once said, “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
Before making an insensible and inhuman comment like “Our hospital is not at fault in the accident. It is all about bad luck…No single person can be blamed for it” on the cause of fire outbreak at SUM Hospital in Bhubaneswar that claimed 22 lives on 17 October, its associate dean JR Das should have thought twice before ignoring facts.
One of the senior authorities of the hospital who dares to call the tragedy “a result of bad luck,” is an epitome of the insensitivity that plagues India’s fragile healthcare system.
A similar statement was made almost five years ago on December 2011 by the authorities of Advanced Medicare and Research Institute (AMRI) Hospital in south Kolkata in defence of the fire that claimed 90 lives.
Setting an example, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had then stated the horrific incident as "an unforgivable crime" and vowed "the harshest punishment possible" for those found responsible. As a result, six board members of the hospital, including two prominent industrialists — also the owners — were arrested for culpable homicide.
Can Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik show the same courage as Mamata did and put the top authorities of SUM Hospital behind bars?
According to media reports, the two FIRs filed against the hospital management do not have names of any of the top authorities of SUM Hospital. Instead, losing no time the hospital management suspended its four employees for dereliction of duty, who have been arrested by Odisha police. None of them is the owner or a board member. The four arrested are mere employees — from a medical superintendent to a junior electrical engineer.
The name of the owner and chairperson of the hospital Manoj R Nayak has been conveniently avoided.
“How can be the deaths of so many patients in the ICU due to fire in the hospital just be due to bad luck? It’s such an irresponsible statement. It’s like a pilot forgetting to put on the switch while nosediving and putting the lives of passengers at risk. The first task should be to arrest the top authorities responsible for the tragedy like hospital’s chairperson, director general fire service, health secretary, etc,” Bejon Misra, consumer rights activist and a member on board of International Alliance of Patients’ Organisation (IAPO) told Firstpost.
The IAPO is a unique global alliance representing patients of all nations across all disease areas and promoting patient-centred healthcare across the world.
After the fire tragedy at AMRI Hospital, the West Bengal government cancelled the hospital’s licence and even today, the new hospital block where the fire took place is shut. The hospital management is fighting a legal battle in the court.
“Only the administrative block of AMRI Hospital that has only a few beds and an OPD is functional. The new block comprising the ICU, OTs and patients’ wards where the fire took place is still shut since the day of the accident. The licence was immediately cancelled by the government,” an AMRI Hospital employee said on condition of anonymity.
Despite lacking quality standards and no fire NoC, the SUM Hospital continued to function. There were reports that the water sprinklers in the hospital were dysfunctional.
“Hospital’s licence should immediately be cancelled for compromising the lives and safety of the patients. We need a strong regulatory mechanism to ensure that these private hospitals and nursing homes strictly adhere to mandatory norms and patients’ safety doesn’t get compromised. Private investors put money in hospitals and private medical colleges only for big returns. Anyone having ‘Dr’ prefixed with his or her name can start a hospital or nursing home in India. Who’s responsible for this? The role of fire department is also questionable. Why no follow-ups are made on whether hospitals following fire safety norms or not?” questioned Misra.
What needs to be in place?
- A strong regulatory mechanism at the national level.
- Accreditation should be given to only those following best global practices.
- Strict legal action including imprisonment and cancellation of licence should be taken against the hospital authorities showing cavalier disregard for patients’ safety.
- Before giving licence to operate, the government must ensure that the hospital promoters do comply with the mandatory norms and specified standards.
- Stricter norms for the fire department, ensuring proper implementation.
- Patients’ safety and security should be the paramount and callous attitude of regulators should sternly be dealt with.