Dogs in wards, attendants on floor: At this Amritsar government medical college, problems galore

Published on Aug 18, 2022 03:13 AM IST

The college, which was established as a medical school in 1864 in Lahore (then British India) and shifted to Amritsar in 1920, has served as a learning hub that has provided teachers for various institutions. The school was upgraded to medical college in 1943. To attend to the growing number of patients, Guru Nanak Dev Hospital (GNDH) was built on the college campus in 1974

Stray dogs in the premises of the Guru Nanak Dev Hospital, Amritsar, India, on Monday. (Sameer Sehgal /HT)
Stray dogs in the premises of the Guru Nanak Dev Hospital, Amritsar, India, on Monday. (Sameer Sehgal /HT)
ByAnil Sharma, Amritsar

The government medical college (GMC) in Amritsar, which is one of the oldest secondary and tertiary medical care institutes of the country, seems to have failed in meeting the expectations of thousands of patients of north India, especially of the Majha region comprising Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Tarn Taran and Pathankot districts, due to several shortcomings, including the acute shortage of super specialist doctors and support staff.

The college, which was established as a medical school in 1864 in Lahore (then British India) and shifted to Amritsar in 1920, has served as a learning hub that has provided teachers for various institutions. The school was upgraded to medical college in 1943. To attend to the growing number of patients, Guru Nanak Dev Hospital (GNDH) was built on the college campus in 1974. This three-storey facility houses a spacious out-door section, emergency wards, and other specialty and super-specialty departments.

The GMC’s director-principal Dr Rajiv Devgan and medical superintendent of GNDH Dr KD Singh were first to resign in solidarity with Baba Farid University of Health Sciences (BFUHS)’s vice-chancellor Dr Raj Bahadur, who was forced by Punjab Health minister Chetan Singh Jouramajra to lie on a dirty patient bed last month. However, their resignations were not accepted.

Vacant posts put pressure on staff

Tertiary hospitals are known for super specialties, but, ironically, most of the posts of super specialists have been lying vacant in the GNDH for many years. “There is no neurosurgeon, leprologist, urologist, cardiologist and paediatrician surgeon in the super specialty department. Many other super specialty posts are also lying vacant here and due to this, many patients are forced to move to private hospitals,” said a doctor on condition of anonymity.

Dr Devgun, said, “The government has already issued an advertisement for the two posts of neurosurgeons, but nobody is joining because of the disparity in the pay structure. A super specialist can earn much better in private institutes than in the government hospitals. The salary structure of the state and the central government is the same. There should be a little change in the policy regarding the recruitment of super specialists, ensuring special allowances and other facilities. If all the posts of super specialists are filled, the hospital can function in a much better way.”

Sources said around 208 posts of sweepers and several posts of ward attendants have also been lying vacant for many years. Dr Devgun said, “We have already asked the state government to fill the posts of sweepers and ward attendants. So far, we have been giving cleanliness related services through outsource options.”

Prescription blues

Another major problem in the hospital is related to prescription of medicines. “Most of the doctors have been prescribing medicines of some companies’ brand allegedly to get commission. No patient is getting free medicine from the hospital. Even, despite the availability of good quality machines and equipment, patients are deliberately being tricked to get their expensive medical tests, including MRI, CT scan, ultrasound and x-rays, conducted from outside the hospital. The patients in emergency are being asked to purchase surgery plates, threads and antibiotic injections from private firms,” said a patient, pleading anonymity.

Dr Devgan, however, said, “Most of the tests are being conducted in the hospital. Even those expensive tests which are not available here are being conducted in a tie up with outsourced agencies at cheaper rates. Similarly, the health department doesn’t provide free medicine for patients to medical colleges. We have asked the government to provide free medicine at medical colleges at par with civil hospitals. So far we are providing free medicine in the emergency department on our own.”

Earlier, last month, during his visit to the hospital, the health minister had instructed the doctors not to prescribe particular companies’ brand medicine. The minister was also complained by several patients for inadequate medical facilities, including unavailability of doctors and basic tests.

Allegation of malpractices

A staff member of the hospital said, “There is a private chemist store inside the hospital which caters service under the Ayushman Bharat scheme. This medical store, in collusion with some senior officers and politicians, has allegedly been committing a scam, by partially accepting payment of medicines from the patients. This store was opened for one year’s lease around eleven years ago, but it is still running without the department’s permission.”

The principal, however, said, “The reports of a scam in the Ayushman Bharat scheme by the medical store is just misinformation. But, we are acting tough against the medical store. A case in this regard is pending in Punjab and Haryana high court. Recently, on the basis of the court’s order, we have collected nearly 2-crore rent from the medical store. Further action against the medical store will be taken as per the judgment of the court.”

Earlier, in his resignation, Dr Devgan, who took charge during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic in July 2020, listed his “tireless services” to the oldest and largest public health institution of Punjab and mentioned the constraints he faced citing limited resources, funds and staff.

The heavy load of patients is another problem in the hospital. Dr Devgan said around 2,500 to 3,000 patients are visiting the OPD every day. “Similarly, indoor patients are also growing day by day. 50 to 60 files are made daily under the Ayushman Bharat scheme. Many facilities, including Ayushman Bharat, are out-sourced. There are four counters of the scheme, but they are inadequate due to the heavy rush of the patients. To reduce the waiting time of the patients, the company which manages the scheme should increase their counters,” he said.

A visit to the hospital highlighted that there was no facility for the family attendants of the patients. Many attendants were found lying on the ground and sitting on the stairs. Stray dogs can also be often seen wandering in the mother and child care ward. The coolers for the patients are without their cover and the sewerage system of the hospital often outflows.

A staff member of the hospital said, “Most of the toilets and washrooms of the hospital are not properly working. Patients sometimes face problem of drinking water.” Dr Devgan said, “There is no shortage of infrastructure and equipment in the hospital. The institute is spread over around more than one hundred acres of area. Several construction works are undergoing in the area and sometimes stray dogs come there, but no stray dogs are allowed to enter the hospital’s premises.”

Punjab state cancer institute still not fully operational

It has been around five years since the foundation stone of the 150-bedded Punjab State Cancer Institute was laid by the then health minister in the GMC in 2017. The project was to be completed in 2019, but one of the two blocks of the institute is still not operational.

“One part of the institute, which includes radiation block and chemotherapy block, is fully operational and around 100 patients are taking treatment from it every day. The indoor and operation theatre complex is under process and its interior work is ongoing. 90% of the work is completed. The project was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic,” said Dr Devgan.

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