Voted into power on the promise of change and development,one of the first steps Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah took was to shift the Medical Superintendent of Srinagars premier maternity facility the Lal Ded Hospital and his Deputy in a surprise raid.
For the thousands who stream into the hospital from across the Valley,the move wasnt surprising. Built to house 500 patients,the hospital Kashmirs only specialised ante-natal care centre by default,given that other hospitals are virtually defunct at any time has more than three times that number.
There are 80-100 deliveries daily,nearly half (40-50) of them Caesarean sections. This alarming number even earned it a warning by the Union Health Ministry last year. Hospital employees admit in private that things are not likely to change. Given how hard-pressed they are both for time and beds,they say,natural deliveries are a luxury they can ill-afford.
Hundreds of men and women waiting for their turn to go in,cane-charging security men refusing entry,screams,shouts and abuses are a common sight.
According to Dr Mushtaq Ahmad Shah,Principal of the Government Medical College and Nodal Officer of all the allied hospitals (including Lal Ded),the collapse of the support network primary health centres and sub-district hospitals was the reason for the state of affairs at Lal Ded.
Underlining that the number of C-sections was not unusual given the number of incoming patients,Shah said: The biggest problem of the hospital is overloading. We have two to three patients on each bed. The hospital gets referrals from as far as Banihal and Qazigund about 100-120 km from Srinagar and that too,for no-risk normal deliveries.
The 12 labour rooms,with three beds each,have patients sharing beds while others lie on the floor. The post-operative room is no better.
Overworked residents complain of shifts lasting into the next day,and say not only are the patients a problem but also the long list of attendants who come with them. Sayeeda is here from Handwara,about 77 km from Srinagar,to show her niece. Jana is accompanying her daughter,who just gave birth to a girl.
But as Jana says,they have no choice. We have come from Kupwara,which is 80 km from here. The hospital said the delivery should take place in Srinagar. Tell me how could an
old lady like me come with a pregnant daughter all alone? Besides what if the patient needs blood?.
In such a situation,Class IV employees say,C-sections are a time-saving aid. When the doctors have so many people in waiting,keeping a patient waiting for a natural delivery can be risky… Caesarean helps us deal with the backlog faster, said another employee.
After his visit in 2007,Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss had promised Rs 50 crore for uplift of the hospital. All the hospital got was fresh tiles on the wall and floor in the upper floors. We are barely managing, says Shah.