Delhi children hospital fire: Owner ran three hospitals without licence | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Delhi children hospital fire: Owner ran three hospitals without licence

May 28, 2024 07:07 AM IST

Regulatory failures and negligence highlighted in newborn care facilities. Police investigation ongoing in tragic incident.

The owner of the neonatal hospital in Vivek Vihar, where six newborns died in a fire, ran a string of facilities in Delhi and was pulled up several times by the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) over glaring regulatory lapses, showed official documents, as investigations revealed a pattern of violations that culminated in Saturday night’s tragedy.

Police underscored that the hospital gutted on Saturday did not have a licence, was packed beyond its authorised capacity, stored more oxygen cylinders than it was allowed, its doctors were not qualified for neonatal care, and the building had neither emergency exits nor fire extinguishers. (Arvind Yadav/HT Photo)
Police underscored that the hospital gutted on Saturday did not have a licence, was packed beyond its authorised capacity, stored more oxygen cylinders than it was allowed, its doctors were not qualified for neonatal care, and the building had neither emergency exits nor fire extinguishers. (Arvind Yadav/HT Photo)

The health regulator in 2018 moved court against Naveen Khichi for illegally operating a paediatric hospital in Vivek Vihar Block B, metres away from the facility in Block C that erupted in flames on Saturday, showed DGHS documents.

Then, in 2019, DGHS found that he had continued to operate a hospital he owned in Paschim Puri, despite the agency scrapping its licence over rule violations. But that facility stayed open for years, flying in the face of the censure, before it was issued a licence in 2022. It then hurriedly shut its doors on Sunday night as outrage against Khichi swelled.

Meanwhile, Delhi Police interrogated Khichi (42) and Akash Singh (26), the ayurveda doctor who was inexplicably on duty at Baby Care New Born Hospital when the fire broke out, after a local court remanded the two in three days’ police custody.

Monday’s findings add to a litany of regulatory malpractices by Khichi that also underline a series of failures by the state administration. Experts said they also pointed to severe negligence in the establishment and operation of facilities for newborns, especially low-cost ones, which do brisk business due to the steep expenses associated with higher-end hospitals.

Police underscored that the hospital gutted on Saturday did not have a licence, was packed beyond its authorised capacity, stored more oxygen cylinders than it was allowed, its doctors were not qualified for neonatal care, and the building had neither emergency exits nor fire extinguishers.

Delhi health minister Saurabh Bharadwaj acknowledged the violations and said the state government has issued instructions to chief medical officers across the city to inspect hospitals in their jurisdiction and prevent a rerun of the Vivek Vihar accident.

Officers involved in the investigation said Khichi’s run-ins with regulatory trouble go back several years.

“He ran five hospitals at one point — in Vivek Vihar B and C blocks, Paschim Puri, Faridabad and Gurugram,” said a Delhi Police officer. “The facility in Vivek Vihar B Block was shut after legal trouble, and the ones in Faridabad and Gurugram were closed after they failed to recoup costs.”

HT on Monday accessed a report that showed his hospitals in Vivek Vihar B Block and Paschim Puri were embroiled in litigation.

Delhi hospital fire: Baby care centre owner, doctor on duty during blaze, sent to police custody

In 2018, the DGHS’s nursing home cell conducted an inspection at the former and found it had not been issued a registration by the Delhi health department.

Khichi was then booked under the Delhi Nursing Home Registration Act. DGHS also moved the Karkardooma court against him for endangering lives, showed the documents.

“Khichi’s application for a licence in January 2018 was rejected,” said an officer, adding that the facility was packed beyond capacity and was spread over too small a space.

This facility was eventually shut down.

In 2019, an inspection at his Paschim Puri hospital found it was operating illegally as well, despite its approval requests being turned down.

“The registration of this nursing home being cancelled by this Directorate (in 2018-19), the keeper (Khichi) continued nursing home activities…,” said the report. DGHS then moved the Tis Hazari court against Khichi in 2020.

Delhi baby hospital fire tragedy: Grieving parents recall horror, demand justice

Around the same time, said the report, Khichi filed a complaint with the National Commission for Scheduled Castes.

“Khichi accused DGHS of targeting him because of his caste. The commission asked the officer named in the complaint for a response, but did not summon him again. The court concluded that it was a motivated complaint by Khichi that was not backed up by facts,” said an officer aware of the court proceedings.

No action was taken in the case and Khichi did not approach the commission again.

This hospital, however, operated without a licence, admitting and treating babies with impunity and no administrative intervention for four years. It was eventually issued a three-year licence in 2022. However, the hospital shuttered overnight on Sunday, as staff scrambled to evade police.

“The Paschim Puri hospital was shut on Sunday and its patients were asked to leave,” said an officer.

Health minister Bharadwaj said he expected the court’s verdict against the illegal hospitals “soon”.

Delhi baby hospital fire: Disaster officials asked for fire-risk audit last week

“The owner of this hospital runs another similar hospital in Paschim Puri. Cases have been registered against him twice in different incidents. These cases are going on against him in Karkardooma Court and Tis Hazari Court,” he said in a statement.

“It is expected that soon the court will give its verdict against the owner of this nursing home in these cases and he will be given a severe punishment,” Bharadwaj added.

Experts, however, said that the absence of governmental intervention allowed such illegal operations to mushroom and flourish.

“There is no room for short-cuts when we are dealing with lives of people. The hospital is most definitely to be blamed but the responsibility equally rests with the government as the regulatory authority lies with them. It’s their job to check these kinds of lapses,” said Dr Yatin Mehta, chairman of the institute of critical care and anesthesiology at Medanta Hospital.

Bharadwaj said the government has stepped up action to avert such disasters.

Read Here | Delhi Hospital fire: Expired license, no emergency exits in the baby centre, reveals police

“We have issued instructions to all CDMOs (chief district medical officers) to conduct random inspections of all private hospitals and nursing homes in their respective areas and keep checking the adequate arrangements to deal with accidents,” he said.

Meanwhile, the police investigation revealed that Khichi largely employed ayurvedic practitioners to take care of newborns.

An officer said Khichi would attend to most of the patients by himself.

“He also was in touch with popular nursing homes who would send premature babies to his centre,” said the officer, who asked not to be named.

Another officer, who also asked not to be named, said, “Khichi and Singh are the only ones to know how the fire broke out. Singh was on duty when the fire broke out.”

Police also said that there were around 15 staffers at the centre who have been identified and traced.

“Nurses, attendants, doctors and helpers were at the centre. They will be questioned and their qualifications checked. The health department’s rules say the staffers must have certain qualifications. However, the doctors are not qualified and are ayurvedic practitioners. So, we are checking others as well. We also found that many of them were well aware of the violation at the centre but continued working,” said an officer.

Police also said the five injured babies have been shifted from East Delhi Advanced NICU hospital to Chacha Nehru Bal Chikitsayala.

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