The death of five pregnant women during C-section procedures in a single week at Hyderabad’s Niloufer Hospital has once again raised urgent questions about the state of public healthcare in Telangana.
Following the successive deaths, two hospital officials have been suspended, an inquiry has been launched and the hospital has temporarily stayed C-section deliveries, and has been redirecting patients to the Modern Government Maternity Hospital at Petla Burj.
Health Minister C Laxma Reddy also announced that the government will set up Intensive Care Units in maternity hospitals, and improve the standards of care to lower pre- and post-natal maternal mortality rates in the state.
However, this is not the first crisis to hit Hyderabad hospitals in recent times. Since August 2016, the state has been struggling with a rash of swine flu cases, with 18 people having died in around six months from the illness.
More alarmingly, there have been cases of deaths and other problems caused during medical treatments at government hospitals in the city. Last week, a six-year-old girl died two months after she was administered allegedly contaminated saline at the government-run Gandhi Hospital.
In June 2016, seven people lost their vision after 13 persons who underwent cataract surgeries at the Sarojini Devi Eye Hospital contracted a severe infection. The NHRC had observed of that case that the available details point towards a violation of the right to health of patients.
At Niloufer, fingers have been pointed at the poor sanitation conditions in the hospital. “The hospital premises are very dirty, even the toilets in the hospitals are not in a position to be used. When my sister was admitted to the hospital, I was using public toilets outside the hospital,” one of the patients told TNM.
And this patient is not alone in making the complaint. Numerous patients have pointed out that the hospital’s sanitation standards have been dismal, with even clean drinking water unavailable to patients.
However, the bigger problem for Niloufer and the other government hospitals in the state is a severe shortage of doctors and other staff.
Ahead of his suspension following the five deaths, Niloufer Superintendent Dr C Suresh Kumar had told TNM, “There is a shortage of 17 doctors and 45 nurses in the hospital. Other than that, there is an acute shortage of sanitation workers in the hospital, due to which it has been difficult for the hospital to maintain hygiene levels.”
Added to this is the problem of overcrowding of hospitals. “We have a capacity of only 500 beds but sometimes the strength of the patients goes up to 800-1200. Due to this, it becomes difficult to maintain the facilities in proper shape,” he had told Deccan Chronicle.
And this is not a problem restricted to Niloufer alone. Indeed, the shortages are so severe that even government employees provided highlysubsidised healthcare at government hospitals are choosing to approach private hospitals instead. Many such people said that they were doing so because because of the non-availability of senior doctors for urgent surgeries or emergency trauma care in government hospitals.
Dr Suryaprakash, the Additional Director of the Telangana Health Department admitted that there is a problem of staff shortage but said that the government is working to resolve the problem. “There is 15% shortage of doctors in Telangana. I agree there is an acute shortage of staff and doctors in the state, but the government is looking into the matter. The government has been taking steps to improve the infrastructure at hospitals and recruit 228 doctors across the state. There is lack of sanitation in the government hospitals because of staff shortage, but the government plans to recruit sanitation workers on contract basis,” he said.
However, he also added the Health Department finds itself tied down because of a shortage of funds.
“Telangana as whole is facing shortage of funds in every sector. But I feel the government should give more attention to the health sector. Now they have identified the issues and are conducting meetings with the Health Department to improve the situation in the state,” he said.
While the government makes its plans, however, on the ground level, patient overcrowding have simply shifted from Niloufer Hospital to Modern Hospital.
The hospital, which has a capacity of 462 beds is now having to attend to more than 600 patients.
This has meant that in some cases, patients have been sharing beds, though the hospital is working to solve this problem.
“Naturally the work has increased. Doctors who used to attend seven patients a day, are now attending to fourteen. Though Niloufer Hospital has provided four doctors and three nurses here, our work pressure has doubled,” G Pratibha, superintendent of Modern Government Maternity Hospital told TNM.
(Edited by Rakesh Mehar)