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Safdarjang needs life support

Equipment missing, rats keep patients company, gloves recycled.

india Updated: Aug 10, 2006 03:50 IST

A doctor treating a patient for burns gets singed by a bulb in the operating theatre. Unlike usual operation-theatre bulbs that have a cover, this bulb was hanging lose. It had been paid for by the doctor himself.

There are no operating microscopes in the ENT and neurosurgery departments; no ventilator in the cardiology department.

Welcome to Delhi's Safdarjang hospital. Welcome to a world where there is delay in buying medicines and must-have equipment; where some wards are infested with cockroaches and rats; where there is a shortage of staff.

As for the delay in acquiring medicines and equipment, senior doctors blame the faulty procedure of tendering. "If I ask for a machine in April, it's screened by a committee which approves the demand," said a doctor. "Then tenders are floated. By the time a tender is finalised, a year passes. So in the next financial year, you've to make fresh demands. This way nobody can buy anything."

The result: it is now common practice among doctors at Safdarjang to bring their own equipment -- sometimes bulbs -- to perform operations. "No instrument has been purchased in the ophthalmology department in the past three years," said a senior doctor. "We mostly borrow equipment from other departments or spend money from our own pockets and purchase the necessary instruments. We've written several times to the medical superintendent that we need new equipment. But nothing happens."

Similarly, a request for additional staff was turned down after the superintendent instructed department heads, in a memorandum sent on April 3, "to re-allocate work and utilise the staff effectively". Dr RN Salhan, the medical superintendent, refused to comment.

There is also the matter of disposable gloves. A memorandum issued last year instructed department heads to clean and reuse sterile disposable gloves. "Only surgeons get fresh gloves," said a doctor in the cardiology department. "Nurses and resident doctors have been instructed to reuse gloves. This is concerned unsafe across the world."

Even though most of its departments have not purchased anything in the past three years, Safdarjang has been returning up to Rs 12 crore of its about Rs 120-crore budget, year after year.

Health Secretary PK Hota said: "We try and encourage them to spend the total amount of the budget. Somehow, the procuring cost of equipment here is higher than purchasing the machines at the market rate." He said the tendering procedure was being looked into. "There are delays in sanctioning equipment and red tapism is a problem we constantly struggle with."

Meanwhile, 4,500-5,000 patients continue to visit Safdarjang hospital every day.