The earliest you can get an appointment at the rheumatology OPD at AIIMS is February, 2018. The reason: There isn’t enough space, or time, provided to the team of 11 specialists. According to an official, the 11 doctors have been provided just four rooms, and two morning OPD slots every week (Wednesday and Saturday), apart from an additional rheumatology clinic that runs every Thursday afternoon.
The department caters to patients with autoimmune diseases and pain disorders that affect joints. “The department has a vacancy for four physiotherapists and two counsellors, but we can recruit them only when there is space. Right now, we use the facility of the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation,” said an AIIMS official.
The department, created on August 7, 2015, now treats over 40,000 patients at its OPD per year, making it one of the busiest. However, it operates OPD only twice a week, due to space crunch on campus. Senior officials told The Indian Express that the four rooms provided to the department on Wednesday and Saturday belong to the medicine department.
“The department earlier functioned as a Clinical Immunology & Rheumatology division under the department of medicine. Till date, we continue to use rooms under the department. The only way we can reduce waiting period is to start OPD six days a week. For that, the administration has to provide more space to the department,” said an AIIMS official.
Sources said the AIIMS administration was to expand the rheumatology OPD at the institute’s Masjid Moth campus. “The new OPD block was to start last year. But the project is behind schedule due to funding problem. It is likely to become operational next year,” said a member of the administration.
Dr Uma Kumar, head of the Department of Rheumatology, said, “The burden of the musculoskeletal problems ranges between 7-17%. The number is huge. At AIIMS, we are providing services at a tenth of the cost of private services. It is now the country’s top referral unit, with 90% of the cases being referred from other hospitals. The patient load can reduce once we have the clinic that runs six days a week.”
Not just OPD, two years after it was started, the department still does not have dedicated in-patient department (IPD) services. Currently, the department has a “daycare centre” with six beds for procedures like chemotherapeutic agents, biopsy and musculoskeletal ultrasound. “The department does not have a separate ward and provides in-patient services in collaboration with unit 3 of the Department of Medicine,” said an official.
In such circumstances, the department is forced to “coordinate” with other hospitals. “We are mainly a referral centre. We get cases from Safdarjung and other big centres. We tell them to get the patient to the OPD, provide treatment, and send the patient back to the hospital,” a doctor said.