Editor's Note: BRD Medical College in Gorakhpur witnessed a spate of tragic deaths of children in its neo-natal ICU and encephalitis ward last year. The poor state of affairs at this medical college which serves a population of over two crore in eastern Uttar Pradesh hogged headlines when more than 20 kids died within 24 hours owing to shortage of oxygen at the facility. A year later, a reality check was conducted to assess the situation on the ground. The outcome of the study, which is covered in a three-part series, paints a grim picture in the face of tall claims of improvement in healthcare for kids made by the Uttar Pradesh government. This is the third and last part of the series.
Gorakhpur: Gorakhpur’s BRD Medical College has been putting on a brave front, ever since the death of more than 60 infants at the hospital last year.
But a visit to the hospital premises narrates a different story – of neglect, lack of hygiene and shortage of doctors.
In fact, the doctors there — including Kafeel Ahmed who made news for his efforts to save the children and later for being jailed — have faced the brunt of the tragedy, tendering resignations en masse.
The result a year later is an acute shortage of practitioners not just in the paediatrics department but the entire institute.
The college’s principal admitted that much, while talks with erstwhile doctors revealed their reasons for quitting.
Till the time of the tragedy last August, the medical college was already short of 23 doctors.
For 100 MBBS seats and 68 postgraduate seats, a total of 124 doctors (teachers) were supposed to be available, but in reality, only 101 posts were occupied. The combined shortage in different departments was 18 percent.
Later, in 2018, 50 temporary MBBS seats were added and the requirement of teachers (doctors) rose to 145 from 124, but the hospital failed yet again to fill the vacancies.
Not just this, it couldn’t even keep the existing doctors in place in the aftermath of the tragedy when close to 15 doctors resigned. Reportedly, no one from the medical college or the Uttar Pradesh health department even tried to talk to the doctors or take measures to redress their grievances.
None of the doctors who have resigned has joined any other hospital.
A senior doctor from the anaesthesia department who recently tendered his resignation told this reporter that the Uttar Pradesh government was not serious about solving the problems of the hospital.
"Everyone knows patients come here when things are out of control and that’s why the death rate here is high, but no one wants to improve things. When problems are raised in the media, the doctor becomes the culprit," he said, adding that he did not want to land in the kind of situation faced by Kafeel or Rajiv Mishra (former principal jailed in connection with the infant deaths at the state-run hospital in 2017).
The senior doctor also said that it was “better to sit at home and search for jobs instead of working at BRD Hospital and spoiling one’s career”, narrating how he was recently blamed for a heart attack death there.
While new principal Ganesh Kumar insisted that the exodus of doctors had nothing to do with last year’s oxygen tragedy, Purak Mishra, son of Mishra, as well as Kafeel said that all resignations had been tendered out of fear.
"My father gave 40 years of his life to the medical profession and there was no blot on him, but the oxygen tragedy which happened due to government negligence ruined not just his career but also his life. He remained in jail for months and was admitted thrice to the hospital while there. He is still in the hospital and we are left with nothing. My mother who was not even related to BRD Hospital was also put behind bars on fake charges," Purak said.
He further told this reporter that he had to quit his job as a doctor in Delhi’s Apollo Hospital to look after his family.
"No one in the family has a job now and we are surviving on our savings. It is not just my family who has suffered but everyone who was arrested after the oxygen tragedy. And there is no one to listen to us," the doctor said.
According to Kafeel, who has been suspended from the hospital, doctors fear to continue practising at the BRD Medical College and do not want to go bankrupt like him.
"Fighting my case, my family lost all savings. My brothers’ business suffered because of the news about me. We have land but we do not get buyers. I get only Rs 26,000 as salary while suspended and cannot even join elsewhere as per law. The government is not even revoking my suspension. I am bankrupt," he said, adding that he had taken to crowdfunding to survive.
Looking back at the tragedy
It was alleged in the aftermath of the 10 August, 2017, tragedy, that the infant deaths occurred due to a disruption in oxygen supply over unpaid bills to the vendor.
Documents reveal that the Yogi Adityanath-led state government did ignore the many red flags raised by BRD Medical College over the issue in the preceding months.
One of these is a letter sent from the college principal’s office on 22 February, 2017, to the National Human Rights Commission, complaining about the threats by the vendor to stop supply if the hefty bills were not cleared. The letter clearly states that loss of lives will occur if supply was disrupted.
On the same date, another letter was sent to Pushpa Sales by the hospital, stating why the bills couldn’t be paid and requesting them to continue oxygen supply.
Despite more requests to the state in the following months for funds to clear the dues, the college did not receive any monetary help. By July 2017, the dues of Pushpa Sales had risen to Rs 50 lakh.
Pushpa Sales finally stopped the oxygen supply first on August 3, 2017. A day later, the principal officer of BRD Hospital once again requested the government for funds to settle the bills. The letter this time clearly stated that casualties could occur in case of further disruption of oxygen and also mentioned that the number of encephalitis patients was surging.
This letter too was ignored.
The dues of Pushpa Sales were finally settled on 11 August, a day after the huge loss of lives that made news for weeks.
State of affairs now
On 5 July this year, the medical college last issued an advertisement for vacancies at 63 doctor posts, also offering a fixed payment of Rs 63,000. The maximum vacancies are in the paediatrics department, and 82 doctors (teachers) currently tend to 218 students.
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According to principal Kumar, an advertisement is issued in the newspaper every Tuesday to fill the vacant posts.
"A counselling session was held on 14 July but only 15 applications were received. We have conveyed the message about lack of doctors to the director general for medical education and within a few weeks all vacant positions will be filled," he said confidently, adding that there was nothing to panic about and all operations were going smoothly.
What greeted the eyes, however, on visiting the hospital was crumbling infrastructure, dirty corridors, people cooking and even selling food inside the paediatrics ward and medical garbage dumped outside the toilets.
The author is a Lucknow-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com.
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Updated Date: Aug 16, 2018 13:53:14 IST