Turned away by three hospitals, 14-year-old cancer patient dies | Latest News Delhi - Hindustan Times

Turned away by three hospitals, 14-year-old cancer patient dies

Dec 07, 2023 05:46 AM IST

The teenager’s family alleged Delhi government’s Delhi State Cancer Institute (DSCI), and the centre-run Safdarjung hospital and AIIMS refused treatment citing lack of medicines, beds

“...If beds aren’t available, what must poor patients do? Die?”

The Delhi State Cancer Institute where the 14-year-old was under treatment for four months. The Delhi government has ordered a probe into the matter. (Raj K Raj/HT Photo)
The Delhi State Cancer Institute where the 14-year-old was under treatment for four months. The Delhi government has ordered a probe into the matter. (Raj K Raj/HT Photo)

These were 14-year-old Fayza Ansari’s last words, captured on camera by her father, hours before she succumbed to blood cancer at AIIMS on December 5, around 9pm. For a week, her mother Raziya Ansari, 48, a housewife, ran from one government hospital to another begging for her daughter to be treated -- only to be turned away each time.

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The teenager’s family alleged that at least three major government facilities in the national capital -- Delhi government’s Delhi State Cancer Institute (DSCI), and the centre-run Safdarjung hospital and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) -- refused treatment citing lack of medicines, beds, or equipment.

In her last days, my daughter would scream in pain outside emergency rooms, shout at anyone who looked like a doctor or a nurse to help her. Her limbs were swollen and turned blue from blood coagulation, and her nose and ears bled,” said the teenager’s inconsolable mother.

On December 2, out of desperation, the family resorted to recording her deteriorating condition—swollen palms, bleeding limbs and her frail body — on video, to call for help.

And help did come, but it was too late. On December 5, she was admitted at AIIMS, but died hours later.

An AIIMS spokesperson told HT that Fayza was indeed admitted to the hospital on Tuesday, as soon as the case was brought to the administration’s notice.

“The family did raise concerns of not finding a bed when the patient was brought to the emergency department but when this was brought to our notice, we intervened, and she was immediately admitted. Unfortunately, she did not survive,” AIIMS spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, Delhi’s health minister Saurabh Bharadwaj took cognisance of the teen’s death on Wednesday and called for a high-level inquiry. He asked the chief secretary, Naresh Kumar, who heads the governing council that manages DSCI, to respond within four weeks as to why treatment was denied to the patient.

Gaps flagged

Fayza’s mother said that her daughter was undergoing treatment for leukemia at DSCI for the last four months, and was admitted there in November when her condition worsened. “After being admitted, shewas sent away by the hospital said they didn’t have the facilities to continue her treatment. We were referred to AIIMS,” she alleged.

DSCI director Dr Vatsala Aggarwal did not respond to requests seeking clarification on the allegations.

Meanwhile, Bharadwaj said that on three occasions, since August this year, he had soughtaction-taken reports from the chief secretary on complaints of shortage of medicines, lack of testing facilities and staff at DSCI, but there was no response.

“It is also pertinent to mention that I have issued several written directions to secretary (health) regarding improvement of services in Delhi government hospitals, availability of medicines, among other things, after I assumed the charge of minister (health). However, no action taken reports have been provided thereupon,” he said in a letter to the chief secretary on Tuesday.

The letter read, “Further, an inquiry may be conducted as to why the 14-year-old girl battling blood cancer was denied bed/ treatment in the hospitals namely, AIIMS, Delhi (an autonomous hospital under central government); Safdarjung Hospital (a central government hospital) and Delhi State Cancer Institute (a society hospital owned by GNCTD and run under autonomous mode). It may also be confirmed whether the control rooms operated by DGHS (directorate general of health services), central government, had requisite information w.r.t. availability of beds in their respective hospitals during the last four months and also whether this information was displayed on the web portal of the hospitals. The inquiry report to be provided within four weeks.”

As per DSCI store records between June and November accessed by HT,nearly 192 medicines, including some basic consumables, have been out-of-stock. Some of these drugs -- Fluorouracil, Albendazole, Alprazolam, Bupivacaine, Chlorambucil, and Heparin, among others -- are essential to manage pain and other side effects of cancer treatment.

A medic at DSCI, who did not wish to be named, told HT,“That there is a shortage is no secret. We have also written to the health department to conduct a review of supplies for us, but that is yet to happen. We are also extremely tight on staff and doctors because of which many families do not get the treatments they deserve.”

Turned away without treatment

After being turned away from DSCI, Fayza’s family said they went to AIIMS, and then Safdarjung hospital. “When we went to the emergency there, we were again turned away, and were told that there were no beds available. We also tried getting a bed at Safdarjung hospital, but were asked to wait for a few days till a bed was vacated,” said her mother Raziya.

The Safdarjung Hospital administration did not respond to repeated attempts by HT, eliciting a comment on the matter.

It was then that the family recorded and posted videos of Fayza writhing in pain, hoping either the media or a politician will take note, and get them the help they need. “Finally, when the media got involved, and we found a bed for her on Tuesday, but by then it was too late,” said Raziya.

Ashok Agarwal, a senior lawyer at the Delhi high court, who tried to help the family find a bed, said that Fayza could finally be accommodated only with the intervention of authorities but not all poor families get that access.

“The family carried this child around across all major hospitals for days, but they were sent away. This is the condition of healthcare facilities in the capital of this country, so you can imagine what the state would be in other smaller towns. We do try to intervene and get help for as many families as we can, but there are thousands of patients from the EWS category (economically weaker sections) that face such discrimination,” said Agarwal.

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    Soumya Pillai covers environment and traffic in Delhi. A journalist for three years, she has grown up in and with Delhi, which is often reflected in the stories she does about life in the city. She also enjoys writing on social innovations.

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