IT’S 9.30 am. Standing at the entrance of the deserted emergency ward at the Max Super Specialty Hospital in Shalimar Bagh, Shashi, 50, is in tears. She’s brought her husband, Suresh Kumar Kalra, 54, for dialysis, but has been told that she would have to take him elsewhere.
“For seven years, my husband has come here for dialysis. Why should I go anywhere else,” she pleads with the hospital staff. “We come here every Wednesday and Saturday for dialysis. But they are saying that they cannot admit a new patient, even in daycare… They referred us to Fortis (which is in the neighbourhood), but it is full. Apollo is too far away. How can someone tell us which doctor to chose,” says Shashi.
The doctors give in, decide to make an exception in the case of Kalra, and begin his treatment in the emergency ward.
But other patients were not so fortunate on Saturday, a day after the Delhi government cancelled the hospital’s registration. The hospital had come under the scanner on December 1 after it handed 22-week twins to the parents in polythene packets, declaring that both were dead. On the way to the crematorium, though, the family found that one was alive. The child was rushed to a nursing home, where he died Wednesday.
Following the government’s order on Friday, the 250-bed hospital, which caters to over a lakh patients per year, cannot admit new patients in its in-patient and out-patient departments. The patients who are already admitted will continue to receive treatment, or can be “transferred to another hospital of their choice”.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Saturday that his government was not against private hospitals, but it would not hesitate to act sternly in cases of criminal negligence and “looting of patients”. “If we had entered into any setting with the hospital, we would not have been able to face our conscience and would have lost the faith of the people. We are not against private hospitals. But we will not hesitate to act sternly in cases of criminal negligence and looting of patients,” he said.
The government’s order has left many patients stranded. Pramod Mahto, 43, a labourer from Qutub Garh village in Outer Delhi, is one of them. He has come for dialysis under the EWS (Economically Weaker Section) category, but is refused treatment. “Since 2014, I have been availing dialysis thrice a week, but they have refused to admit me now. I was discharged from the ICU on November 15. My kidney had developed severe complications. I have been diagnosed with Hepatitis B, but I am helpless now. Fortis does not treat EWS patients. And in Ambedkar Hospital, I have to wait endlessly. Where does a poor man go,” he says.
“The doctors have said that if I don’t get dialysis, it can be life threatening. The only option is a transplant. My father has had a bypass surgery, and my wife has stones in her kidney. My daughter is too young to donate. Every week, I go to Safdarjung Hospital to check the waiting list for kidney donation. I don’t want to go back to the ICU,” says Mahto, adding, “The death of the child is unfortunate, but you cannot kill 100 more because of one case.”
Standing next to Mahto is Birju, who has been diagnosed with kidney failure. Birju, who is in his twenties, is a resident of Haiderpur, near Shalimar Bagh. “After running from pillar to post for over three months, the officials in Delhi secretariat cleared my son’s file for free dialysis treatment. The SDM had said his treatment would begin from Monday. But now the hospital has been shut,” says his mother, Sanjana.
“We are calling everyone who had booked appointments, informing them that they have to move to another hospital. We are coordinating with other hospitals. However, since we cannot admit any new patient, we have very few options. We have written to the government about running full-flegded emergency services,” says a senior member of the hospital administration.
As patients outside the hospital are forced to return, those inside face uncertainty regarding the future course of treatment.
Anil Mathur, a 59-year-old executive working in Ajmer who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, underwent a surgery on December 5. “Once he is discharged, we face a dilemma about the follow-up treatment. We don’t know which hospital to go to. Where do we go if he requires urgent re-admission? We came here to get treated by a particular doctor. How can someone deny us this right,” says his son, Vivek.
“The government should have imposed a huge fine on the hospital. That would have set a precedent. We have not been given any notice. The hospital is telling us that they cannot admit new patients. This is a very drastic step for critically ill patients. A hospital is not just a building that you can shut down in one day. It concerns matters of life and death,” he says.
Next to Anil’s room is Amit Chand, 65, who has been diagnosed with blood cancer. Doctors have recommended a bone marrow transplant as the last option. “My aunt’s bone marrow has been found to be compatible. She was supposed to get admitted today for a stemcell test, and has to undergo a number of other tests before a transplant is cleared. But she is being considered as a new admission. Since we cannot admit her, the transplant cannot take place,” says Chand’s son, Mahesh.
“I am helpless. Chand’s sister is a new patient for us. We have recommended a bone marrow transplant, but have to admit her for that. My hands are tied,” says Chand’s doctor, who did not want to be named.
Meanwhile, Sheena Naaz, 25, has been rushed to the emergency ward. “She is 22 weeks pregnant and is complaining of pain. We have checked her vitals and found that her condition is not critical. We would have admitted her and referred her to the gynecology department, but we now have to refer her to Fortis,” says the attending doctor.
Calls are made to Fortis, but there is no relief. “The patient belongs to EWS, and Fortis does not have EWS beds. We have no other option but to refer her to a government hospital,” says the doctor.
An ambulance is called, and Naaz is sent to Ambedkar hospital. “If something happens to my wife on the way, the government and hospital are answerable. No one respects life,” says Farhan, her husband.
Meanwhile, the Delhi Medical Association (DMA) on Saturday asked Kejriwal to withdraw the order. In its letter, a copy of which was also sent to Health Minister Satyender Jain, the DMA said the government should wait for the report of the Delhi Medical Council, which is probing allegations of medical negligence. “Does Max Hospital have only two doctors? More than 1,000 patients will be made to suffer because of the decision. The government hospitals have long waiting lists, extending up to six months. Where will these patients go? We oppose this decision and ask the government to withdraw it,” said DMA president Dr Vijay Malhotra.
A senior government official, however, maintained that “if EWS patients being treated at the hospital are being sent back, they should be referred to other hospitals. Or the hospital should approach the Directorate General of Health Services and communicate the issue. Instead, the hospital is aggravating the situation.”