After Gorakhpur, Jhansi’s Maharani Laxmi Bai Medical College could be next BRD
The Maharani Laxmi Bai Medical College in Uttar Pradesh’s Jhansi, the mainstay of Bundelkhand region’s healthcare system, has a single vendor that supplies oxygen to the 700-bed hospital and does it mostly on credit.
The hospital owed Gauri Gas Private Limited Rs 36 lakh that included the unpaid bills from 2016 as well for the supplies it made this year. Authorities cleared the vendor’s bills up to June 2017 after they received funds from the state government on August 14.
The payments were made days after the death of nearly 70 children at Gorakhpur’s Baba Raghav Das Medical College allegedly due to a disruption in oxygen supply because of unpaid bills, an incident which has triggered public outrage and a political storm with opposition parties attacking the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in the state.
The contract of Gauri Gas expired in March this year and the process to float a fresh tender has not been started till date. But the company continues to supply oxygen cylinders to the medical college.
“Imagine if this vendor backs out over delayed payment. The college has no back up in place,” a former doctor said.
The college, which has the occupancy rate of 95% on normal days, maintains a reserve of oxygen cylinders that could last for eight to 10 hours at the most. And in case the fresh stock fails to arrive, it has a reserve of only 25 to 50 cylinders. The daily consumption of oxygen at the hospital ranges between 120 and 150 jumbo size cylinders.
Last year, the medical college received Rs 4 crore of the total Rs 6 crore earmarked for meeting its expenditure. The money was spent on buying medicines, injections, and chemicals and the hospital could not use the rest of the amount, which was roughly around Rs 2 crore.
“That is the primary reason the vendor could not be paid on time. The payments were cleared when we received funds. We have cleared the bills up to June this year,” college principal NS Sengar said.
He, however, said his college will not face the same situation that plagued Gorakhpur’s BRD Hospital.
“I am with this college for the last 18 years and I haven’t seen any problem like what happened in Gorakhpur arising here,” he said.
Sengar, however, did not talk about the action he took immediately after the Gorakhpur deaths. He reportedly sent an SOS to the government for the payment of Rs 36 lakh to the vendor, which is yet to receive the money for supplies it made in July this year.
The medical college, which gets patients from seven districts in UP and even Madhya Pradesh, always struggles with fund crunch and lack of staff.
Sources said the equipment in the hospital is getting rusty in the absence of maintenance. “The college is managing it with 50% less staff and funds. Almost no investment has been made to buy new equipment in years,” they said.
“You could say the entire medical college is running on jugaad,” they added.
They were referring to the means of making do with improvised products from limited resources.
Patients and their families regularly complain about poor infrastructure and lack of basic materials such as gloves and even the basic of medicines. They also complained about the lack of hygiene on the campus and the wards.
“We don’t get anything other than the ointment from the hospital,” Raghuveer Singh, who is attending to his nephew for the last 23 days in the hospital after he met with a road accident, said. “You have to buy everything from outside, even items required in surgery. I bought the surgical gloves for the doctors,” he added.
Chandra Shekhar brought his father to the hospital after he lost both his legs following a fall from a train and faced trouble immediately.
“When we arrived here, we didn’t get a stretcher. I had to search for it. Imagine how much time is wasted when you have a serious patient with you,” the resident of Moth in Jalaun, said.
“You know the Gorakhpur tragedy changed the scene a bit. We got clean bed sheets for the first time in months,” he added.
The state of the affairs at the Jhani hospital only highlights the challenges faced by India’s underfunded and overburdened public health system, where successive governments have failed to address the acute shortage of doctors and infrastructure. The problems are compounded by cases of shoddy medical treatment.