How Many Patients In India Are ‘Killed’ By VIPs?
Thankfully, this time it was not a patient gasping for life. He was an attendant who had to lift his frail female patient bodily and run to reach to the ward. Because he was not allowed to cruise this seemingly serious patient on the wheelchair for it was considered a security threat to the president, Pratibha Patil, who was addressing the convocation the while, on the 16th of November. Picture the attendant tripping in course of lurching towards the ward and the patient falling on the concrete floor. It could have resulted into any mishap.
It was just one incident among many patients who were left to fend for themselves for more than 4 hours running. Ironically, Gulam Nabi Azad, the Union health and welfare minister, who had also come to attend the convocation, was waxing eloquent on the burden of the patients from all over the country,on All India Institute of Medical Science(AIIMS). He was blithely unaware of the ‘burden’ that the running hapless man was carrying due to the dignitaries’ presence in the hospital.
You found such grim scenes enacted in AIIMS close on the heels of what happened in the convocation in PGIMER hospital, Chandigarh, not long ago. The security cordon for the Prime minister, Manmohan Singh, who was addressing the convocation, proved to be death knell for the terminal kidney patient gasping for breath. On 2nd November, 32-year-old kidney patient from Ambala, who needed urgent treatment to save his life, was denied entry into the emergency area. Despite entreaties of the family, the security men remained unmoved and the patient ultimately died for want of the timely attendance of the doctor. This incident shocked the whole country. The media ‘wailed’ no end. So much so that the Prime minister had to write a letter to the grieving family of the dead, seeking forgiveness for what had befell the family due to his high presence in the hospital and assured the nation that such incident would not replicate due to VIP security. No one is imputing the ‘killing of the patient’ on the Prime minister but it is a grim reality that the visit of VIPs to the hospitals as a guest or a patient unleashes the whole hell of a negligence for the common patients. The death of Ambala patient, Sumit Prakash Verma , was just one such death which was caught by the camera but, going by the narration of the insiders of hospitals in Delhi, deaths of the patients facilitated by the VIP visit should not be viewed as a stray incident. When VVIPS enter the premise of a hospital, critical patients being left unattended for hours are a common occurrence. The survey of this aspect of the hospital negligence and the resultant deaths of critical patients could give a staggering figure.
So when the time of AIIMS convocation approached, it did with the grim reminder of the Chandigarh incident. The Rashtrapati Bhavan made it a point, apparently keeping in mind the foregone mishap, her visit should not result into any kind of inconvenience to the patients.
Seemingly, her instructions were followed. The routes to OPD and the emergency were left unfettered. But no one knew what happened just in the vicinity of Jawahar Lal Nehru auditorium where the dignitaries were lecturing medicos to go to villages to serve poor people. The scene of the running attendant was just a symptom. And who knows, had Chandigarh not happened just before, Mrs Patil’s visit might have been clouded by any such mishap! In the preceding month only, Gulam Nabi Azad, announced with much fanfare the patient safety policy. While announcing it, he talked profusely about doctor’s duty towards the patients, the value of time and alacrity in treatment. But, little did he know that this policy will lay shattered under his own nose after a few days only of his policy announcement. But he was conspicuous on this policy by his silence when the heart rending death of the patient at Chandigarh happened. He had accompanied the Prime minister to Chandigarh.
It is interesting to know that Mr. Azad acted swiftly this time around in the second convocation at AIIMS. He initiated action against the deputy director administration (DDA) Shailesh
Yadav ( an IPS ) for his action that resulted into a faux pas (in her address she said 36 the convocation instead of 37th) on the part of Pratibha Patil. It is said that it was due to the letter sent by the DDA. But this kind of alacrity is unheard of politicians regarding common man.
To exemplify the value of a patient struggling for life, it would be in the fitness of things to remember the redo bypass surgery that was done on Manmohan Singh himself. The treatment meted out to him as a patient should be the right of every patient. Rules were made to stand on the head and a private hospital surgeon from Mumbai was called complete with his veritable OT to treat the PM. All stops were pulled to make his surgery success and save his life. No one grudges that but one can not argue that other patient’s life is even a shade lesser than that of the Prime minister. For sure, the PM can not be imputed with insensitivity. Taking cue from what happened in Chandigarh, he cancelled his convoy in the capital that could have disturbed the peace of AIIMS patients. But this kind of piecemeal action and tokenism will not ensure the safety of the patients in hospitals. The moral of the mishap in PGIMER is that VVIPS would serve the inmates of government hospitals better if they keep off them. When a VVIP happens to be in the hospital either as a patient or a dignitary, there is scramble among senior doctors to show their concern for the VVIP. An officer in the AIIMS, on the condition of anonymity, said that when a VVIP enters the premise many senior doctors are in queue to give their attendance. There must be some strict protocol regarding this.
Here is yet another glaring difference between patients rushing to the hospitals and VVIPS going to some destination. All traffic stand still when VVIP straddles on the roads but have you seen a wailing ambulance with a gasping patient, to be given a passage? The answer is invariably no. The doctors often underline the value of golden time in saving the life of a critical patient. But this aspect is being neglected with impunity in the hospitals when VVIPS enter the hospital premises. Not only in terms of VVIPs only, the whole issue of patients safety needs to be taken into account. The issue needs to be integrated with the whole question of negligence. Was PGIMER administration not guilty of negligence for the patient who died? In big government hospitals like AIIMS, another high handedness of the special patients referred by VVIPS, wreak havoc to the general patients. These ‘referred’ patients, even if they are not critically ill, are given beds ‘out of turn’ at the cost of common critical patients. The big question is- will there be a time when only a patient and his life would be important in the hospital rather than anything else? A patient in need is a VVIP indeed for any hospital.
By Babita Jha