While patients requiring surgeries at PGI are put on a waiting list that could stretch for weeks on end, two operation theatres (OTs) in the premier hospital’s Nehru Building have been lying locked for more than three years.
Surgeons at PGI, struggling to get more OT days to clear their backlog, said if the two unused theatres — on the fourth floor of Nehru Building — are made functional, the hospital would be able to conduct at least 10 more surgeries every day.
There are 18 operation theatres in Nehru Building and the departments of ENT, Neurology, General Surgery, Gynaecology, Urology, Plastic Surgery and others conduct their surgeries in them. “There is a huge gap between the number of surgeons and operation theatres. A surgeon hardly gets a day or two in a week to operate. As a result, there is a long waiting list of patients requiring surgeries with every surgeon,” said a senior surgeon. No doctor who spoke to Newsline for this report wanted to be named.
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A month-long wait is very common in all departments. Even for routine non-emergency surgeries like removal of gall bladder or for hernia operations, a patient may have to wait six months. Doctors say the shortage of OTs and excessive patient load make them prioritise surgeries depending on the severity of the disease. For example, priority is given to cancer patients over those suffering from hernia. But even cancer patients may have to wait six weeks.
“Everybody knows that there is severe shortage of operation theatres in PGI, then why are these two OTs kept locked? It is a sheer waste of infrastructure,” said one senior surgeon who has a six-month long waiting list. He did not wish to be named.
About four years ago, the two OTs, which were earlier being used for cardio-vascualar-thoracic surgeries, were earmarked for liver transplants. Since then, however, no liver transplants have been carried out in them. The nine liver transplants that PGI has conducted since 2010 were all performed in a CVTS OT in another building.
PGI spokeswoman Manju Wadwalkar said the operations could not be performed in the liver transplant OTs because the theatres “were not up to the mark” but added that they were now fully equipped and ready for use. “We started working on these two OTs from scratch about three or four years ago. We purchased and installed latest equipment and sensitised staff and doctors regarding safety standards to be maintained. Now, our OT is ready to function and along with a back up OT in CTVS cardiac centre,” she said.
Harried surgeons, on the other hand, say that considering PGI does not get enough patients for liver tranplants, these OTs should be opened up for other surgeries. “How many liver transplants have been done in PGI? They should open them up for general use, so that patients benefit. Nine routine surgeries can be done in a single day in these two operation theatres,” said another senior surgeon.
The spokeswoman, however, felt that two OTs were necessary exclusively for liver transplants. Asked if the number of such procedures done so far at PGI warranted two OTs, she said: “What if two liver transplant cases come together?”
She said these OTs could not be opened up for routine surgeries as under the Transplant of Human Organs Act (THOA), it is mandatory to have a separate operation theatre for all liver transplant centres in India. “These OTs cannot be used as general purposes or cross utilised by others. We have to maintain strict bacteriological surveillance,” Wadwalkar said.
Other reputed hospitals conducting liver transplants seem to suggest otherwise. One Chennai-based liver transplant surgeon said the procedure did require “ultra-sterile environment” but there was “nothing to prevent it from being used for other surgeries except gynaecological ones because that generates a lot of body waste”.
“The only requirement in the Act is 24-hour availability of Operation Theater facility for planned and emergency procedures with adequate staff, support system and equipment,” said one PGI surgeon.
A liver transplant surgeon from Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences (ILBS) said, “Ideally a transplant operation theatre should be different as risk of infection is high. But, if you are conducting only one transplant in a month or in a year, then there is no point in keeping entire OT for transplant. The OT can be used for other major surgeries like Hepatobiliary and Pancreatic Surgery or other elite procedures which are comparatively clean in nature”.