It’s 3am and about 150 people are waiting outside the gates of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Each one desperate for his or her turn to meet a doctor at the Rajkumari Amrit Kaur out-patient department (OPD).
The gates open, an hour later, and the patients and their family run towards the OPD, where guards reorganise them into queues. For the next five hours, they wait in queues until the OPD opens at 9am.
One of the many problems plaguing India’s premier public hospital is overcrowding. As many as 10,000 patients reach the hospital’s OPD daily. In the absence of similar speciality hospitals, the super speciality AIIMS that was meant to be a tertiary car institution has become a primary healthcare centre for patients that throng it from all corners of the country.
“Of the 150 people waiting outside the gates at 4am, only 80 are patients,” says Vishwas Kumar, 52, one of the guards at the OPD.
“Card-making (registration) starts at 8.30am but the queues stretch up to the gates by 6.30am. Each patient is usually accompanied with one or two people, but some have five or six attendants too, which results in overcrowding,” says Kumar.
And the queue takes a toll on everyone. It takes months for even those with terminal diseases like cancer to get started with their treatment. Among them is Madhuri Devi, 40, who started her chemotherapy for cancer of the uterus in March 2014 after waiting for three months.
“We queue up from 4am only to have the doctor tell us at 2pm that the radiotherapy machine is not working. He referred me to Safdarjung Hospital, where we were referred back to AIIMS because their machine is not working too,” says Madhuri, who moved from Bihar to Delhi with her husband last year to get treated. “I’m now queuing to meet someone who can tell me what to do next,” says Madhuri.
Yasmeen Gohar, another cancer patient, had to wait nine months for her turn. “For eight to nine months, we could not get admission into the hospital, so I started chemotherapy at GTB hospital. I’m finally back at AIIMS,” says the 28-year-old mother of four from Bihar, who is living in Ashok Vihar with her brother-in-law.
A medical store supervisor told HT, requesting anonymity, that 75% of cancer deaths at the hospital are because of the long waits. “Many patients are turned away or given long dates because beds and radiation machines are booked. Since the poor can’t afford treatment elsewhere, they die waiting,” he said.
Finding a shelter is another major problem that the patients who come from other states face. Many end up living on streets since the hospital dharamshala has limited occupancy and the administration does not allow anybody to stay beyond 15 days.
Technology to help
The hospital has now started online appointments to check the problem of long queues at the OPD.
“Since most of the overcrowding happens at the OPD, we have started online appointment for the already registered patients. We are also constructing two more halls where online kiosks and computer desks will be installed to help the patients track their treatment,” said Dr Amit Gupta, AIIMS spokesperson."Any hospital that gets close to 10,000 OPD patients daily is bound to be overcrowded. There are very few institutions of the calibre of AIIMS and hence the hospital gets patients from across the country, resulting in overcrowding," Dr Gupta said.