Standing outside the emergency department of AIIMS on Saturday evening, Kamlesh Kumari (32) held up a blood bag for her brother Anil Kumar (25) who is undergoing treatment for hemorrhoids at the medical institute. Her brother was among the many patients who were moved out of the emergency ward after a massive fire broke out on the second floor of a building in the PC and Teaching Block. It then spread to other floors.
The AIIMS administration closed the emergency department as a precautionary measure as it was close to the building that caught fire.
“We did not see any fire but were told to leave the ward immediately. Guards and doctors asked us to go to Safdarjung Hospital for further treatment,” said Kumar, sitting on a stretcher outside the emergency ward.
The family, however, decided to stay outside the hospital. “We are not sure if we will get treatment in the other emergency ward. We will stay here and wait for the situation to return to normal,” said Kamlesh.
Security staff at the hospital hurriedly helped patients vacate the emergency ward. With the capital receiving rain in the evening, patients and their attendants crowded under the awning of the ward block, undecided whether they should proceed to Safdarjung.
Among them was the family of Savita Devi (52) from Sambhal in Uttar Pradesh. Devi is bedridden due to renal complications. By 6.40 pm, she and her family had been waiting with her on a stretcher outside the block for half an hour.
“We have not received any referral from AIIMS to go to Safdarjung. My wife is unable to walk, so we’ll have to take her there in an auto. We don’t want to go there only to be turned away, so we are waiting for a confirmation on the referral,” said her husband Devender Kumar.
Unsure of the crowd at Safdarjung, other families made arrangements. “There are so many patients here; it will get too crowded so we are waiting for an ambulance to go to Kailash Hospital in Noida,” said Neha, whose mother-in-law Rajkali (70) had suffered a brain haemorrhage in the morning.
According to patients waiting outside, the line for the emergency section kept moving forward even after the smell of smoke began entering it around 4 pm.
“We could see smoke outside. The corridor outside was filled with water because of fire service operations,” said Amarnath (54), who was at the hospital because of renal complications. At the hospital since 2 pm, he said he was just one patient away from being let into the emergency ward when patients were evacuated.
Special fire audit planned at institute
As the fire broke out, AIIMS director Dr Randeep Guleria, heads of departments and senior officials from the Health Ministry held a meeting to chalk out a patient-friendly plan and conduct a fire audit. Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan was also in attendance.
In March, a fire broke out at the AIIMS trauma centre. Although the fire was doused within minutes, it took around three hours to clear smoke from the basement. No casualty was reported.