Batul, 60, has been camping at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, for over two months to get her 25-year-old daughter Gunaz treated for acid injuries.
Gunaz, an embroidery worker in Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur, drank acid “out of a fit of rage” in August. The incident badly damaged her food pipe. With little or no medical assistance from state-run hospitals in the quaint little town, the mother-daughter duo rushed to AIIMS. Over two months since, the two women spend their nights under the open sky at the AIIMS metro station, staring at a blank future.
Batul and Gunaz are among the thousands of people awaiting treatment at the country’s premier hospital.
AIIMS doctors referred Gunaz to SafdarjungHospital, another state-run hospital-cum-medical college just across the road from the main campus. There she underwent a surgery to insert a feeding tube into her stomach. She was referred back to AIIMS for further treatment in the first week of September. But little progress has been made yet.
“We came here two months back. She (Gunaz) spent 12 days in Safdarjung for the surgery, after which we were asked to return to AIIMS. We have been running from pillar to post ever since then, but we have not yet been able to meet the doctor. When we go to OPD, they send us to Emergency, and vice-versa,” said Batul, clueless about what to do next.
The sprawling AIIMS campus in New Delhi is brimming with people from far flung areas of the country, despite the central government introducing six ‘AIIMS-like institution’ in different states.
With the aim to correct regional imbalances in quality tertiary level healthcare in the country, and attaining self sufficiency in graduate and postgraduate medical education and training, six ‘AIIMS-like institution’ have been set up in Bhopal, Bhubaneswar, Jodhpur, Patna, Raipur and Rishikesh under the Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojna (PMSSY). All the institutions have become functional, according to their respective websites.
But that has not stopped patients from these cities from thronging AIIMS Delhi for cost-free and better treatment.
“There is no difference in the inflow of patients. We still receive patients from across north India as most of these other institutions don’t have a Trauma Centre. They only offer general medicine and treatment for diseases. The major accident cases are referred to AIIMS Delhi by these hospitals,” said Archana Vijayan, nurse at AIIMS Trauma Centre.
Bihar’s Saharsa-resident Roshan Kumar, suffering from brain tumour, is a testimony to the lack of facilities provided at the ‘AIIMS-like institutions’.
Kumar approached AIIMS Patna to get his tumour operated upon, but was referred to the main campus in Delhi. Having spent over a week at AIIMS Delhi, Kumar and his elderly mother rue government for the uneven distribution of facilities at the state-run hospitals.
“They (AIIMS Patna) do not operate on brain and referred me to Delhi. Though government has set up a hospital in our state, we still have to stay away from home and shell out extra money to come to Delhi for major treatments,” he said.
Kumar, who has been doing frantic rounds of the Blood Bank to arrange blood for his surgery, also brought to notice a very disturbing practice at the Delhi AIIMS. He alleged that a nurse at the Blood Bank turned down a Delhi-based donor, asking him to arrange a donor from his home state.
“I managed to get two donors today. While they collected blood from one of the donors, the lady nurse sent back the other person. She shouted at me, asking me to get someone from Bihar to donate blood,” said Kumar.
As many as 10,000 people reach the hospital’s OPD every day, according to reports. Patients and their kin start queuing up outside the OPD counter as early as 4 am.
Though the management claims to have taken a number of steps for better crowd management, a ground check tells a different story.
AIIMS had introduced web kiosks to help patients book their next appointment without having to wait at the OPD counters. However, the web kiosks set up outside the Rajkumari Amritkaur OPD have not been functional for close to three months. They stopped working three months after its installation, said a sweeper not wanting to be named.
Finding a shelter is another problem faced by patients from other states. Apart from the overcrowded waiting halls at the hospitals, the patients have made footpaths, subways and AIIMS metro station their temporary homes.
While some people die here waiting for treatment, many other unfortunate parents lose their kids to kidnappers. At least two children were allegedly kidnapped from outside the AIIMS metro station where scores of families bundle up awaiting treatment at the premier hospital.
Sheela, 35, is not returning to her home state Bihar despite her husband's successful surgery for stones at AIIMS. Her seven-year-old son Nitish Kumar has been missing since September 18. Police have registered a complaint, but no FIR has been lodged yet, she says.
Another child, Mithun, 5, was reported missing from outside the metro station around the same time.
These instances highlight the vulnerability of people who reach New Delhi everyday in search for cheap treatment. The lack of super specialty government hospitals in states brings this swamp of patients to the national capital, thus underlining the need for more hi-tech hospitals.
Apart from the six regional AIIMS, the Union Cabinet last week cleared proposals to set up three more AllMS at Nagpur in Maharashtra, Manglagiri in Andhra Pradesh and Kalyani in West Bengal at a cost of Rs 4,949 crore.
The proposed institution shall have a hospital with capacity of 960 beds. In addition, there shall be a teaching block, administrative block, Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) block, auditorium, nursing college, night shelter, hostel and residential facilities.
Of the total expenditure of Rs. 4,949 crore, the cost of the new AIIMS at Manglagiri will be to the tune of Rs. 1,618 crore, Rs. 1,577 crore for Nagpur and for Kalyani Rs. 1,754 crore will be spent.
Construction is also on for AIIMS Rae Bareli in Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s constituency. Two AIIMS are to come up in Jammu and Kashmir, the only state to have two such institutions.
The burgeoning population and the ever-growing diseases call for a more robust health care system in the country. Even as the central government takes pride in the increasing number of ‘AIIMS-like institutions’, the truth remains that many of its 1.2 billion population die on the pavements of these hospitals awaiting treatment.