Patients, including those critically ill, are routinely treated by sanitation and other support staff in a government-run hospital in Bihar’s Madhepura district, in the latest incident to highlight the poor state of healthcare in the region.
Cleaners stitch wounds, administer life-saving injections and transfuse saline and blood into patients besides carrying out other routine work meant to be done by trained staff at the 80-bed Madhepura district hospital, about 240km northeast from Patna.
Authorities say they are facing an acute shortage of staff at the hospital, where 700 to 800 patients come for treatment every day. They also claim the government has not responded to the pleas of the hospital administration to fill up several vacant posts, especially doctors.
Hospital records show that out of the 344 posts of paramedics, only 64 work at the hospital and there are only 19 doctors for the hundreds of patients.
“We have no surgeons in the hospital,” deputy superintendent, Dr Akhilesh Kumar, said.
“We face a sticky situation whenever we receive accident patients. There is no surgeon and no dresser. Fortunately, our fourth-grade staff has acquired paramedical skills and their skills are saving the lives of patients,” he added.
He praised their paramedical skills and said also said they have bettered their skills, which came handy for doctors during rush days.
“They have been valuable assets to the hospital and had they not been here the hospital would have died long ago. We always supervise them and hence so far no problem has surfaced even in the emergency ward of the hospital ever since I have joined.”
Dilip Mullick, one of the cleaners, said they have learnt to do the paramedics’ job by observing the doctors and nurses.
“We can’t leave injured patients writhing in pain and endlessly wait for a dresser, who is not available at all in the hospital. We have always done this job in the spirit of service to suffering mankind, which is like serving to God,” Mullick said.
Madhepura’s district magistrate Navdeep Shukla said he has no information that sanitation and other staff was doing the job of paramedics in the hospital.
“If such thing happens we’ll look into it and try to find out under what circumstances cleaners are discharging the duties of paramedics and assisting the doctors,” he added.
Patients undergoing treatment in the hospital also said they did not know about the situation.
“We can’t say anything in this regard but we have no problem when we are being administered an injection,” 60-year-old Sukhiya Devi from Singheshwar said.
Others were critical about the non-availability of medicines in the hospital.
“We have to buy most of the medicines from outside,” another patient, who did not want to be named, said.
The Madhepura district hospital is not an isolated example in Bihar, where support staff do the job of paramedics. The government hospitals across districts face an acute crunch of paramedical staff as well as doctors.
India has seven doctors for every 10,000 people, half the global average, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Data from the Indian Medical Association (IMA) shows the country needs more than 50,000 critical care specialists but has just 8,350.