No space for walkers outside Delhi’s top two hospitals
Zigzagging traffic, ambulances, illegally parked auto-rickshaws/cabs make negotiating the busy Sri Aurobindo Marg almost impossible, where AIIMS and Safdarjung Hospital are located. Moreover, hawkers, shops, and patients and their families encroach the pavements.Updated: Mar 13, 2019, 08:42 IST
Two of India’s biggest government hospitals — All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and Safdarjung — are situated across the busy Sri Aurobindo Marg in South Delhi’s Ansari Nagar. Zigzagging traffic, makeshift ambulances, and illegally parked auto-rickshaws/cabs make negotiating the road almost impossible. Moreover, hawkers, makeshift shops, and patients and their families waiting for treatment encroach the pavements.
Less than a year ago, Safdarjung Hospital moved its emergency wing from a single-floor crowded hall to a new 500-bed block. One can approach this block, along with the gynaecology department, from gate No. 5 on the Ring Road. However, the pavements and narrow service road outside have been taken over by vendors selling clothes, blankets, utilities like toothbrush and slippers, and food. There is barely any space for ambulances. “When an ambulance approaches, we ask people to move. They eventually do,” said a guard at the gate.
At AIIMS, ambulances have better access as vendors are not allowed near the main gate. Instead, they spread their wares across pavements, forcing people onto the Sri Aurobindo Marg.
Officials of New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), which is responsible for upkeep of the area, express their helplessness to remove the vendors. “No matter how many times we move them, they return. We clear almost a truck-full of material from the pavements every day. The problem is the excess footfall at the hospitals. There is no facility for patients to sleep or eat inside these hospitals. So, the vendors flourish,” Virendra Gautam, director of public relations at the NDMC, said.
The problem is compounded by private ambulances that have no designated parking space. “Many patients are from outside the state. If it is a day-care service, they ask the ambulance to wait outside till they are done. They park on the roadside or on service roads. Authorities avoid fining ambulances,” Gautam said.
Besides, the improved pavements constructed by the NDMC are usually used by families and friends accompanying patients, adding to the crowd.
Premwati Devi, 52, came three months ago from a village near Budaun in Uttar Pradesh for her husband Ram Kumar diagnosed with throat cancer. “We have to spend ₹1,500 on one-way travel. My husband needs to see the doctor every other day, so we decided to stay here,” said Premwati, on the pavement with two bags.
NDMC’s washrooms and water coolers on the pavement draw people and choke the crowded footpath. “The area was handed to us six or seven months ago and we set up the public conveniences. Earlier, people used to urinate on the pavement and in the subway,” NDMC’s Gautam said.
Both hospitals have sprawling campuses that make travelling between departments an ordeal for many.
Shahbaz Alam, 43, is from UP’s Hapur to get his wife’s fracture treated. “It has been three months now but the pain is still there. AIIMS doctors are the best, the only problem is the long queues and going to different places for her tests and medicines. I cannot leave her alone. So, I take her with me everywhere, but she gets tired,” said Alam.
AIIMS runs 10 electric shuttles around the hospital, but it is not enough for the 50,000 patients and their families there every day.
And it is worse for patients on gurneys and wheelchairs. Shakila, who has a surgery scheduled at AIIMS, requires a wheelchair as she is too frail to walk.
“The roads and pavements are bumpy. Sometimes my grandsons have to carry me whenever there is a pothole or broken path,” she said.
Sheeshpal Kumar, 38, suffered an accident last year and a life-saving surgery left him with a shorter leg, which makes walking difficult. He has been coming to AIIMS for physiotherapy and to learn to walk with special shoes. But, the ramp to the orthopaedics clinic on the first floor is a challenge. “My wife alone cannot push my gurney. It feels like the stretcher will topple,” Kumar said.
Safdarjung Hospital has four e-rickshaws for patients and their relatives. “For patients on wheelchairs and stretchers, the two farthest blocks in the hospital are the emergency and super speciality, where we have stationed ambulances for in-hospital travel,” said Dr Rajendra Sharma, medical superintendent.
Last year, an underpass was opened for public, connecting the AIIMS’s main campus to Safdarjung Hospital and AIIMS Trauma Centre.
“It used to take about 30 minutes to commute between hospitals in an ambulance in peak traffic on Ring Road. Now, it takes about five minutes,” said an official from Safdarjung Hospital, on condition of anonymity.
People, however, still have to run across the busy road between gaps in traffic as homeless patients and their families camp for days in the subway across Sri Aurobindo Marg. The very narrow and steep ramp in another subway across the Ring Road makes it impossible for use for people on wheelchairs and stretchers.
This leads many to use the Metro station to cross the road. “When I’m here, I stay with my brother in Noida and take the Metro to AIIMS. I have to go across the road to buy medicines from the shops outside Safdarjung Hospital. I’ve discovered that it is easier to cross the road through within the station,” said a patient’s relative.