Cases of medical negligence hardly evoke any sharp responses these days, considering their sheer volume owing to improper facilities in hospitals across India. However, an appalling case of medical negligence in West Bengal is sure to shake one’s conscience.
As the country’s youth prepared for board examinations, among them was 16-year-old Arijit Das who was appearing for his class 10 examinations in Birbhum, West Bengal. The boy complained of fever, just a day before the class 10 board examinations commenced on Monday. However, he managed to write three papers until his condition deteriorated alarmingly on Wednesday. His fever failed to subside despite medications and he even complained of severe back pain, prompting his father Ranjit to take him to Rampurhat Sub-Divisional Hospital. After conducting numerous blood tests, the hospital failed to detect anything, which compelled Ranjit to shift his son to Annapurna Nursing Home in Burdwan.
Doctors at the nursing home too failed to make any headway in the boy’s treatment, who by now was complaining of chest pains. This compelled his father to shift his ward to Rabindranath Tagore International Institute for Cardiac Sciences, for which the family requested a critical-care ambulance and a doctor to accompany their son on the 105-km ride to the city hospital. However, the family was not allowed to sit with the doctor and Arijit during the journey, and was told to hire another vehicle.
The family was in a state of shock when Arijit was declared ‘brought dead’ by the hospital. The ‘doctor’, Sarfarajuddin, tried to escape but was nabbed by one of the relatives of the boy. It was later found that Sarfarajuddin was an AC mechanic impersonating a doctor. The oxygen cylinder in the ambulance encountered problems, and it was the driver who fixed it instead of the ‘doctor’. Had Arijit been accompanied by a proper doctor with all the life support systems, he would have probably been alive. No sooner than this shocking story snowball into a controversy, the nursing home tried to completely wash their hands off the case by claiming that both the ambulance and the doctor were not associated with them.
While the mainstream media focused on Uttar Pradesh and its healthcare desperately trying to discredit the Yogi government at every point, West Bengal silently simmered and proved that its healthcare is no better.
While the media did everything to protect their biggest hope against Narendra Modi, Mamata Banerjee, the state of her state’s healthcare couldn’t have stayed hidden for long.
The West Bengal government last year passed a legislation aimed at bringing about transparency in the private medical care industry. The legislation sought to bring transparency in the functioning of private hospitals with strict monitoring through a regulatory framework, and also had provisions for imposing a penalty in case of violations. The law mandated a regulatory commission to be set up to maintain accountability, and the choice of members for the commission shows why this legislation is nothing but hogwash, aimed to present ‘Didi’ as the saviour.
The Supreme Court, in a landmark verdict in 2013, had ordered Dr.Sukumar Mukherjee and two others to pay a massive compensation of Rs 5.96 crore for the death of US-based psychologist Anuradha Saha— the biggest such amount in Indian medical history. The apex court was scathing in its findings against Dr. Mukherjee and held him solely responsible for Anuradha Saha’s death. Dr. Mukherjee is now one of the members of the regulatory commission, which is aimed at bringing about transparency. Dr. Mukherjee is mandated to deliver judgements pertaining to medical negligence, something for which he himself has been indicted. Only Didi could have come up with such a stroke of genius. Before this, as if to rub salt in the wounds of the patients, Didi invited Dr.Mukherjee, perhaps the most negligent doctor in India’s history, to be the Chief Adviser to the West Bengal government in order to help the government improve its healthcare system. He was subsequently removed in 2015 in the face of mounting pressure from Dr.Kunal Saha, husband of Anuradha Saha who moved the Supreme Court questioning the appointment of Dr.Mukherjee. However, Dr.Mukherjee has been given a new lease of life under the new regulatory commission.
The death of Arijit is not a one-off case. West Bengal has a notorious history of similar deaths. Recently, a baby died at Apollo Gleneagles West Bengal allegedly due to medical negligence. The hospital had been under the scanner for medical negligence and malpractices following the death of a patient in February 2017, and Apollo Group’s Managing Director Preetha Reddy, who met chief minister Mamata Banerjee after the incident, had admitted to lapses in the hospital’s healthcare delivery in the past few months. No action was taken against the hospital.
There is little doubt that Mamata Banerjee herself is culpable for the deteriorating healthcare in West Bengal, and the appointment of Dr.Mukherjee stands as a testament to this. The new legislation to regulate private hospitals is a desperate ploy to shift public attention from the poor condition of the state’s healthcare, and to place herself as a Messiah. West Bengal will continue to bleed as long as such people are in power.
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