The 380-bed Kalawati Saran Children’s Hospital is one of the biggest hospitals for kids in Asia. The hospital, which is attached to the Lady Hardinge Medical College, also has the largest neo-natal wing in Delhi with 84 beds.
That is where the hospital’s uniqueness comes to an abrupt stop. The hospital has an acute problem of hygiene, common to many other government hospitals in the national Capital. It is more alarming in the case of Kalawati Saran since a majority of its patients are newly-born children and pregnant woman — who are most prone to infections.
Sitting on infection bomb
Pregnant women and parents with sick children can be seen waiting for their turn right next to a potentially infectious pile of waste — blood-soaked gauze, bandages and other biomedical waste — being packed in yellow bags by cleaners before being sent for incineration/deep burial.
In 2008, the incinerator at Lady Hardinge Medical College was shut down and since then, all biomedical waste is sent to a private company for disposal. “A worker was severely injured when his hand went inside the shredder while disposing plastic waste, after which the incinerator was shut down as we did not have trained manpower,” said Seema Bilawar Singh, the nursing sister responsible for infection control and waste management at Lady Hardinge Medical College.
The hospital director, Dr Atul Murari, refused to comment over the matter but a senior administrative official said the incinerator was closed after the Delhi Pollution Control Committee sent a notice stating that it was not eco-friendly.
India’s Bio-Medical Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2001, mandate that biomedical waste generated at a hospital is segregated from other material and put in colour-coded bags to be sent for incineration. This was done to ensure that hazardous and infectious waste should not mix with the common waste and end up at landfill sites.
Patient rush and absenteeism
On an average, 530 patients queue up for roughly two hours each to meet one of the nine doctors at the four-hour OPD. About 2,63,980 patients visited the medical and surgical OPDs at the hospital in the year 2013-14 and 48,914 in the casualty department.
Absenteeism and doctors reporting for work late compounds the problem of crowding.
Prema Ghildiar, 55, reached Kalawati at 7am on Wednesday morning to see a doctor at the OPD, which is supposed to open at 9am. “I’ve been waiting for three hours today. The doctors start calling patients in only from 9:30am or 10am,” she said.
This seems to be a routine problem and senior officials are aware of it. “We have to take it up with the director,” a senior hospital official said, adding he regularly takes rounds to make sure that the doctors and the staff report on time.
A single registration window further aggravates the problem of crowding. Bitter arguments among patients is a common sight at the window. “The process of registration is slow because everything is done manually. The computers stopped working and they were never replaced,” said a data-entry operator, who did not wish to be named.
Both medical and technical staff claim that vacancies are not filled. Coupled with late-reporting for work and absenteeism, it aggravates the problems of the patients.
When HT did a spot check on Thursday last week, only two of the four nurses on duty were present at the specimen collection centre. Also, two of the nine OPDs started functioning an hour late. The clinic for eye check-up and that for skin diseases started functioning at 9.50am and 10.00am respectively.
When confronted, one of the senior resident doctors said he was late because he had to finish his morning rounds at Lady Hardinge.
Ghildiar, however, claims the hospital used to be even dirtier years ago. She had visited the hospital for the first time 30 years ago for the delivery of her first child and has been coming to the hospital since. “It’s a lot cleaner now, it was way filthy earlier with paan stains everywhere,” she said.
Naresh Kumar, a safai karamchari, agrees. “The hospital has become cleaner ever since cleaning and maintenance has been outsourced to a private firm,” he said.