Guwahati's biggest hospital needs intensive care

The result: doctors in what used to formerly be the Gauhati Medical College hospital now operate on patients under torchlights held up by attendants. That, incidentally has been the situation since 1990, after a generator provided by the state health ministry broke down.

And that happens to be only a part of the hospital’s woes. Located in the heart of the city at Pan Bazar, MMCH lacks the most basic amenities, including a decent 24-hour blood bank. The one that exists works six hours a day and has one pathotlogist and no technicians—that in a hospital that has 350 beds, and treated 1,71,491 patient, according to available statistics, in 2001 alone. Not to mention clean toilets. To top it all, the hospital that should have been the life-saving home for people, especially those from the lower income groups, now comprises a den where just about nothing gets done without an attendant’s palms being greased. That would include getting the results of an X-ray on time: a bribe of Rs 50 ensures immediate delivery, while not paying the amount would mean the patient having to spend an additional 12 hours in agony, no matter how serious his case, or how grievous his injuries. And that is so long as the X-ray machine works. Mostly it doesn’t. “We came to the hospital hoping to get free treatment. But all we have been doing is paying people inside and outside the hospital to get things done,” says Rupali Kalita, who brought in her patient from a lower Assam district. As far as the director of the hospital Dr PC Sarma is concerned, such complaints, however, do not make much of a difference, “unless they are made in black and white”, a risk that patients’ families are obviously not willing to take, given the fact that retribution by the hospital’s staff could be severe. Questions regarding the quality of nurses in the hospital beget typical state-of-the-bureaucracy answers: “I cannot comment on the quality of nurses in the hospital,” he says, “because I too am an employee here.” As for operations being conducted under torchlights he “was not informed about it and nobody has done so in my presence”. Just now, the hospital functions with 86 nurses (as against a requirement of 204), five laboratory technicians (as against a requirement of 16), 83 fourth grade employees (needed, 116) and 15 sweepers, when the actual requirement is 88.
So just how does it all work? MMCH for one seems to have worked out a well-defined strategy to tackle the situation: among them, taking a decision, according to Dr Sarma, to conduct operations only between 8 am and 12 noon, hours during which power is least expected to fail. And what if it does. “Well, we don’t have a generator,” he concedes. As for basic cleanliness, “the patients too do not try to stay clean,” he says, adding he does at the same time have a shortage of sweepers. “We cannot employ extra sweepers because we have a funds problem. Also, you cannot overwork the existing people just because they are sweepers.” The only good news that the director informs you of: that the hospital’s ‘management society’ has now decided to repair the hospital, which, according to sources, would have collapsed in many blocks given the seepage that has just about cost the building its life. All in all a hospital that somehow seems a disgrace to the word itself.

By Monalisa Gogoi(