Who killed our collective conscience?

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During the night, Avinash suffered several rounds of desaturation. The hospital informed the media that he died of “dengue shock syndrome with septic shock” (infection in the body) and multiple organ failure. The Delhi Medical Association declared that his life could have been saved if he had been admitted 10-12 hours earlier.

When TEHELKA contacted the marketing head of Saket City Hospital Sandhya Kaushik, she only said, “We can send you the same formal response which we have released few days back.”

Laxmichandra’s neighbours claim that his red motorcycle was left in Saket City Hospital’s parking lot and that he had asked his friend to collect it from there. Kaushik maintained complete opacity about Avinash’s case, just like Moolchand Medcity, saying, “We can respond only once our legal team gives a nod on the issue”.

Interestingly, Saket City Hospital seems to have been negligent in another dengue case. Pooja Jha took her brother Bhawesh, a Class 12 student who was diagnosed with dengue and had a temperature of 103 degrees, to the same hospital 20 days back. “We waited for four hours, no one attended to my brother. He was weak and burning with fever,” says Pooja.

Her parents, based in Bihar, were fortunate enough to find ‘links’ after making a number of phone calls to get their child a bed in the hospital. Pooja recalls that other patients too were waiting in ambulances to be admitted. As she put it, “My family frantically searched for a way out. Finally, one of our relatives who is a doctor managed to get a bed for us.” Fortunately, Bhawesh was cured after 20 days of treatment.

When faced with media queries, Max Hospital outrightly refused to admit that Avinash Rout was ever brought to the hospital. TEHELKA waited for an official response from Max till the time of going to press, but did not get any replies to queries.

Are the managements of these hospitals not even aware of Supreme Court guidelines that no hospital, private or government-run, can refuse to address a critical patient, even if it doesn’t have adequate facilities to admit them? It is the hospital’s responsibility to stabilise the patient first and provide her adequate medication before referring her to any other hospital. Clearly, these guidelines are frequently being set aside by Delhi hospitals. Had they even had an ounce of fear of legal action against them, hospitals such as Moolchand and Saket City would not have dared to refuse admission to these children.

While a concerned and anxious Delhi government was busy in seeking answers from hospitals, meeting civic bodies and issuing guidelines to government schools, six-year-old Aman Sharma succumbed to dengue on 15 September. This time the hospital which refused to admit the patient was the central government-run Safdarjung Hospital. Doctors here said they did not feel the need to admit the patient. He died two days later.

The question everyone is asking is: What makes these hospitals feel so high and mighty? Interestingly, there is very less hope from the present laws in Delhi. The big hospitals which have publicity budgets running into crores — despite a law prohibiting them from advertising — are not worried about the fine they may have to pay, as they are governed by the Delhi Nursing Home Registration Act, 1953, which has a provision of imposing a maximum fine of  Rs 1,000 per day for any such lapse. Considering the amount they rake in every day, the quantum of fine itself is a mockery of those who have died due to medical negligence.

Ultimately, one can predict that the Delhi government’s show-cause notice to these private hospitals will have little impact. The right to cancel hospital land leases lies with the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) which is outside the state government’s purview. AAP MLA and former minister Saurabh Bhardwaj accepts that the present law has no teeth.

In Avinash’s case, Bhardwaj believes the Delhi government should not depend on the culprit hospitals to provide CCTV footage. He suggests that prima facie evidence can be collected from the mobile phone of Avinash’s father and this can be the basis of action initiated against the culprits.

Also, cancelling hospital licences doesn’t appear to be a feasible option as the national capital is already facing infrastructure crunch in the health sector. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal too had accepted that such a measure would further escalate the problem: “If we cancel the licence of those hospitals, there will be shortage of hospital beds.”

So if the version of the five hospitals is to be believed — that they are not responsible for Avinash’s death — then the question remains: Who is responsible for these deaths?

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