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Sunday, November 28, 2021

Ahmednagar fire: OPDs shut in day-long stir against arrest of medical staff

Besides the local IMA unit, members of the state nurses’ association and government medical officers’ association have joined the agitation along with homeopathy and ayurveda practitioners

By: Express News Service | Pune |
Updated: November 11, 2021 2:37:13 pm
Medical staffers in protest in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar.

Doctors, nurses and paramedical staff in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar are up in arms after a medical officer and three nurses were arrested on charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and causing death by negligence after a fire claimed 11 lives at the District Hospital. Besides the local unit of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), homeopathy and ayurveda practitioners too have joined the day-long stir with OPDs remaining shut on Thursday.

“Only emergency services are allowed,” Dr Nisar Shaikh, former president of IMA, Ahmednagar, told The Indian Express. “If there is a fire, how is the doctor and nurse responsible? They are there to take care of the patients’ health. So how does it justify the clauses of Section 304 and 304A against the medical officer and three nurses,” asked Dr Anil Athare, president of IMA, Ahmednagar.

“Doctors and nurses have always been soft targets, but no one has questioned personnel from the PWD and electrical department regarding wiring and other maintenance works,” Dr Athare said.

The fire had broken out on November 6 at the hospital’s ICU. While the District Civil Surgeon Dr Sunil Pokharna has been suspended along with two other medical officers, the services of two nurses had been terminated by the state Health Department.

However, what has appalled the medical fraternity in Ahmednagar is the unjustifiable manner in which medical officer Dr Vishakha Shinde and nurses Sapna Pathare, Asma Sheikha and Channa Anant were arrested and remanded in police custody.

The Maharashtra State Health Nurses Association and the Maharashtra Association of Government Medical Officers have also joined the agitation, apart from the 700-member strong IMA community.

According to Senior Medical Officer of Ahmednagar District Hospital, Dr Prasad Saigaonkar, the seven-day inquiry process has not been completed, but police have taken action. “These are criminal charges based on CCTV footage which have not been verified,” Dr Saigaonkar alleged.

Objecting to the culpable homicide charge levelled against the arrested medical staff, Dr Athare said, “This is simply shocking. The death of the patients occurred due to a fire tragedy. The medical staff of the hospital have nothing to do with it. In fact, they made every effort to rescue the patients. The patients were even brought out of the ICU ward. Charging them with culpable homicide is beyond imagination.”

Surekha Andhale, president of the Maharashtra State Health Nurses Association, fiercely opposed the move and said 14,000 to 15,000 nurses across government hospitals in the state will join the agitation if their demands are not met. “The arrested persons should be released soon,” she demanded, while pointing out that there was no fire automation system at the government hospital.

Dr Shaikh, who is also the former vice-president of IMA Maharashtra, said the fire caused by a short circuit in the plug panel spread so fast due to the centralised AC and the oxygen supply meant for Covid patients that there was too much smoke and fire. “This was a building meant for maternal and child health wards under the National Rural Health Mission. However, it was turned into a Covid ICU funded mainly by private players,” Dr Shaikh said.

IMA doctors have lashed out at the government for their negligence in not conducting regular fire audits and claimed that the district civil surgeon had sought state funds to set up a fire safety system, but to no avail.

When contacted, Dr Bhushan Kumar Ramteke, who has been given additional charge as District Civil Surgeon in Ahmednagar, said the stir has not affected emergency services at the 300-bed hospital and only the OPD has been shut.

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