By: Chander Suta Dogra
With officials saying on Friday that at least 33 people had lost their eyesight after undergoing cataract surgeries organised by a charitable organisation at a hospital near Gurdaspur, preliminary official inquiries have pinned the blame on “gross negligence” by the doctor, the NGO and the medical facility.
The 33 were among 157 people who underwent surgeries at the Guru Nanak Multispeciality Hospital in Ghuman, around 25 km from Gurdaspur, that were conducted following three screening camps held from October 31 to November 4.
According to Dr Rakesh Gupta, state programme officer for National Programme for Control of Blindness, a series of norms were allegedly flouted during the surgeries:
* The 33 who lost their eyesight were part of 49 patients identified from the final screening camp held at Gagomahal village in Amritsar and brought to Ghuman. All were operated upon the same day by Dr Vivek Arora of Vidya Eye Care Centre in Jalandhar, who had done the screening, too, earlier that day. The rules state that a doctor can conduct only 25 cataract operations in a day.
* The facility did not have a theatre dedicated to eye operations, as is the norm. The operations were conducted at a general facility that was being used for all surgeries, including gynaecological procedures.
* The organisers did not take permission from the district administration before holding the camps. This, Dr Gupta said, would have ensured a mandatory check and certification of the facility by local health authorities.
According to officials, Gurdaspur police have arrested Dr Arora and Manjeet Joshi — a philanthropist from Phagwara who got Mathura-based NGO SK Netra Chikitsalaya to organise the camps and surgeries — on charges of negligence and causing grevious injury.
Cases have also been registered against the Guru Nanak Multispeciality Hospital and the Chikitsalaya, and- a police team has gone to Mathura to question officials at the NGO.
Before his arrest, Joshi told The Indian Express that he had held three previous camps in the last few years in this region with funds donated by Punjabi NRIs for charitable purposes.
According to Baba Sukhdev Singh Bedi, who heads the hospital, complaints from patients who attended the camp started coming in around two weeks ago, following which Joshi had taken six of them to the PGI in Chandigarh for treatment.
Bedi and his son and managing director of the hospital, Sukhvinder Singh Bedi, said that their role in these camps and surgeries was limited to providing medical facilities, food and shelter to patients.
Deputy commissioner Gurdaspur, Dr Abhinav Trikha, told reporters that neither the hospital nor the NGO has given them all the records of the patients operated upon following the camps held in Ghuman, Tanda, Dera Baba Nanak and Gagomahal.
Officials said that over 1,00,000 cataract surgeries have been done in Punjab since April of which at least 75 per cent were conducted by NGOs and private institutions. “The percentage of such surgeries in government health facilities is very less, as most are done at eye camps organised by charitable institutions that also include deras and gurdwaras,” said Dr Gupta.