Calcutta, June 30: Eighteen babies aged between two days and 11 months died at Bengal’s apex referral hospital for children in 36 hours since Tuesday night, serving Mamata Banerjee a reminder about the gravity of the problems she faces in health care.
On an average, five to six children die every day at the 360-bed BC Roy Post-Graduate Institute for Paediatric Sciences, Phoolbagan. The sudden rise in number revived memories of November 2006, when 22 babies died in less than 72 hours, and August-September 2002, when 18 died in three days.
Angry relatives and local people blocked a road for over an hour alleging negligence, but hospital authorities denied the charge and the government seemed ready to give them some leeway.
The hospital said that 17 of the 18 babies had spent hours travelling to Calcutta after being referred from the districts, where the health-care system is primitive and many mothers are malnourished.
“The deaths happened mainly because these babies were referred from district health centres in very critical condition,” medical superintendent D.K. Pal said.
“Many suffered from septicaemia, congenital heart disease, jaundice, malaria. Most were malnourished and some born prematurely. The weather fluctuation because of rain worsened their condition.”
A government statement issued tonight claimed the mortality rate at the hospital was “of the same order” as the rest of the state. “(For) critically ill neonates who are kept in the neonatal intensive care unit, the usual death rate is between 15 and 20 per cent of total admission. The death rate at Dr BC Roy Hospital is also of the same order,” it said.
Logically, this means the jump in death figures was a result of a sharp increase in arrival of critical patients. Hospital officials said this was so but gave no figures.
Earlier, on the chief minister’s orders, a probe panel of three doctors was formed and asked to hand in a report in 24 hours. “If anyone is found to have been negligent, he won’t be spared,” Mamata promised.
She partly endorsed the hospital’s claims, saying the babies were “extremely critical” and had been brought from “far-off places like Bongaon and Jagatballavpur”, but added: “Their post-natal care was not proper.”
The hospital’s eight ventilators are far from sufficient, especially “during monsoon and winter when more children need ventilators”, a doctor said. It lacks CT scan facilities, for which critically ill children must be ferried to other hospitals.
Hannan, father of nine-month-old Aryan Gazi, who came from Sandeshkhali, 100km away, said: “We bought the medicines prescribed by the doctors at 1.30am but they were administered only the next morning. The nurses drove me out of the ward when I requested them to give the medicine to my son.”
Opposition leader Surjya Kanta Mishra, during whose tenure as health minister the earlier deaths had occurred, accused the new government of playing down the latest deaths. He said the chief minister’s decision to keep “so many key departments” (including health) with her was making matters worse.