A day after the Kerala DGP said that he had opposed the Prime Minister’s visit to Kollam hours after a fireworks blast killed over 100 people, as it would hamper relief work, the state’s top health official said that the visits of VVIPs, including Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, to the ICU and wards at the Thiruvananthapuram medical college hospital to meet the injured were “unwarranted”.
Modi and Congress leader Gandhi visited the patients separately on Sunday at a time when seven of eight patients admitted in the ICU were in “the most critical condition, with 60 to 90 per cent burn injuries”, R Ramesh, Director of Health Services (DHS), told The Indian Express.
According to doctors, at least 136 of those injured were brought to the medical college hospital that day apart from 18 bodies, mostly charred beyond recognition, following the blast at the Puttingal temple.
“I was pushed away when Modi visited. After arguing with security personnel, the Director of Medical Education and I had to return to our rooms… A decision by the VVIPs to visit such a hospital filled with charred bodies and patients with severe burn injuries and amputated limbs was unwarranted. We have no issues with them visiting victims but after two or three days, not within hours after the accident, which is a period we consider as the ‘golden hours’ to stabilise and save the lives of victims. Moreover, it was not just Modi and Rahul who entered the Burns ICU and wards but their cronies and photographers, too. I opposed this but it was beyond us,” said Ramesh.
“By insisting on visiting the wards and the critical care unit, the VVIPs put the infection control mechanism in jeopardy and derailed the mass casualty management at the medical college, which actually had responded to the disaster in the most effective manner,” said the official.
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At the Thiruvananthapuram hospital, located about 70 km from Kollam, Modi was accompanied on Sunday afternoon by BJP state president Kummanam Rajasekharan, senior party leader O Rajagopal and cricketer S Sreesanth, who is the BJP’s candidate from the city for the assembly polls next month.
Rahul Gandhi, who visited the hospital around 8 pm that day, was accompanied by KPCC president V M Sudheeran and Kerala Health Minister V S Sivakumar.
Speaking to The Indian Express, on condition of anonymity, a nurse at the hospital said that she and four colleagues, who were part of the surgical wing, were stopped from entering the operation theatre block by the Prime Minister’s security team.
“An ICU patient had developed a sudden complication and we were rushing there from another block, but they stopped us for almost 30 minutes,” said the nurse.
A doctor at the hospital, who did not wish to be identified, said that a group of surgery and orthopaedics resident doctors were stopped near a lift leading to the Super Speciality Block for half-an-hour by security personnel accompanying Gandhi. “It was not just the lift that was blocked by securitymen but staircases, too,” said the doctor.
Ramesh confirmed that he had witnessed some of these incidents. “Doctors and nurses in critical care units wear masks and caps and take extra precautions as even a minor lapse could lead to serious infections and deaths. But these VVIPs and their cronies were hardly bothered about all this. Before the cameras, they even touched those patients,” said Ramesh, adding that rules should be framed to restrict such VVIP visits.
”Even if the VVIPs want to visit the hospital, those accompanying them should be kept out of the campus as they have no business in a place where critical patients are fighting for their lives. Except for a few who wore masks that Sunday, none of the VVIPs or their security personnel were sterilised properly,” said Ramesh.
A senior professor at the medical college said he was shocked to hear about the demand from the team accompanying the Prime Minister to let him into the Burn ICU, a “highly sterilised area”.
”The VVIP visits affected our work as we had to accompany them from around 3 pm — ahead of Modi’s visit — till 9 pm, when Rahul’s convoy with over 10 vehicles and his partymen left the medical college campus,” he said.
”As we shifted patients with minor injuries to other hospitals, we focused on mass casualty management as all our patients admitted had been in critical stage. We had to control infections as well as focus on medicines and surgical procedures. We cleared an entire block for the victims from Kollam. There were two deaths in surgical ICU. There were 46 patients in the wards, some eight highly critical patients in the Burn ICU and seven in Orthopaedics ICU. Every 30 minutes, doctors and nurses met to assess the situation and gather resources and medicines besides arranging ventilators and other surgical and ICU facilities in other hospitals. Still, these VVIPs insisted on visiting the patients instead of letting us do our work,” he said.
On Thursday, DGP T P Senkumar had told The Indian Express that the entire police department was busy in rescue and relief work and the visits by Modi and Gandhi had placed his force under further pressure as they had to ensure their “safety and security” as well.