Docs absent,hospitals unmanned in Junglemahal

Only five out of 11 outpatient departments have functioned over the last three months in the government hospital in Jhargram in West Bengal’s Naxal heartland.

Written by Sulagna Sengupta | Kolkata | Published: February 27, 2012 5:00 am

Only five out of 11 outpatient departments (OPDs) have functioned over the last three months in the government hospital in Jhargram in West Bengal’s Naxal heartland. Of the 12 doctors supposed to be on OPD duty,only five have showed up regularly this month.

At the subdivisional hospital in Ghatal,in the same left-wing extremism affected district of West Midnapore,only five out of nine OPDs functioned in December-January. Only two out of nine doctors were on duty.

The state health department has collected these statistics about Junglemahal,where the battle is as much to secure the hills and forests against Maoists as to win over the hearts and minds of the largely tribal population.

Addressing collectors of 60 LWE-affected districts last September,Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stressed on “integrated action” focused equally on security and development. In October,Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh drew up a plan for Junglemahal,the impoverished 8,000-sq km sprawl in the districts of West Midnapore,Bankura and Purulia,where Maoist politics has fed on the lack of development.

The Bengal health department’s statistics on OPDs and doctors’ attendance come from the centralised mobile tracking system introduced in July 2011,under which medical superintendents are required to send an SMS to a team of official monitors in Kolkata every morning,mentioning how many doctors had reported for duty and OPDs had been opened in their hospitals at 9 am that day. The idea was to inculcate work ethics and ensure accountability for doctors who,especially in the districts and subdivisions,had made it a practice not to attend OPDs for more than once a week.

The SMS records now available show that the scheme has largely failed in its objective in LWE areas,where the health infrastructure continues to be unmanned and understaffed. A random check of 64 state-run hospitals found significant overall improvement in doctors’ attendance at only 40 per cent of hospitals during December-January. Some findings:

Primary health centres in blocks like Kewakhole,Dwarigeria and Salboni (West Midnapore) and Khatra and Bishnupur (Bankura) have not sent in attendance data to the monitoring centre in February.

In Ragunathpur subdivisional hospital in Purulia,the number of doctors in February was four,against the scheduled nine. In Chanchal subdivisional hospital in Malda district,the epicentre of the crib deaths,the number of doctors was six (out of eight) and OPDs three (out of five) in January.

Only one of the three scheduled OPDs in Kolkata’s Abinash Dutta State General Hospital opened in December-January. Several doctors had not turned up for duty here and at the Lumbini Park Mental Hospital when the SMSes were sent out.

However,there were improvements in the state-run medical colleges. At SSKM Hospital the attendance percentage went up in January compared to that in December. Nineteen OPDs,which were scheduled to be opened around 9 am,opened at 9:37 am; on an average,56 doctors attended OPDs as against scheduled 71 doctors. The attendance percentage of NRS Medical College and Hospital was good with 23 OPDs running all day in December-January,with a total doctor strength of 144 against the scheduled 156.

Health officials blame the poor attendance of doctors in Junglemahal hospitals on the fear of Maoists. The government’s incentive package for doctors willing to work in LWE areas has found few takers.

Dilip Ghosh,commissioner,family welfare department,said the government plans to extend the OPD tracking system to more hospitals. Hospitals that have reported poor attendance would be pulled up,he said.

Director of Health Services Dr B R Sathpati,a member of the monitoring team,said doctors had become more vigilant since the OPD tracking system was introduced.

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