Patients’ deaths in public hospitals due to a shortage of ventilators and because there are virtually no generators functional during power outages, are the order of the day. Does anyone care?
On May 12, at least 10 patients expired at Mayo Hospital because they could not be supplied with ventilators. Some of the patients were shifted to other, private facilities.
As horrific as this incident was, it wasn’t anything ‘unusual’. Last year, eight children were reported to have lost their lives at Children’s Hospital because of a shortage of oxygen machines. During the same year, a newborn at Ganga Ram Hospital died because he could not be administered with a ventilator.
There are other, no less distressing stories coming out of public hospitals where there is a criminal lack of power generators or other measures to deal with any such emergency situation. Earlier this month, 35-year-old Kauser Bibi from Narang Mandi lost her life because the ventilator in Mayo’s North Medical Ward wouldn’t work during a power shutdown.
At the pediatric emergency wards in public hospitals, the scarcity of ventilators routinely creates panic among the attendants of the patients as well as the doctors. If a patient X is put on a ventilator and, in the meantime, another patient Y is received at the emergency, with a very serious condition, the doctors can’t seem to decide what to do. Should they remove the ventilator of patient X to accommodate patient Y? If they do so, they would not be spared the wrath of the family of X and also the media, in case the patient expires.
This isn’t it. There is a shortage of medicines at the public hospital stores also. The government claims that it provides free medicines to the patients, but the reality is quite different, particularly at the OPD. If a doctor has prescribed you a few medicines, chances are you won’t get a couple of them at the hospital store. The storekeeper has a ready answer: "The medicines are not available. You can purchase these from some pharmacy."
The story has another twist to it. As a patient at the Nawaz Sharif Teaching Hospital, Yakki Gate, tells TNS, "Twice, I found that the hospital drug storekeeper had deliberately held back the medicines I needed. I don’t know why."
The AMS of Mayo Hospital Tahir Khalil doesn’t buy the abovementioned versions. He also denies the report that 10 patients died at the hospital due to the unavailability of ventilators. "It is not fair to link every death in the ICU to the lack of ventilators. More than 90 per cent patients put on ventilators do not survive anyway."
The AMS also rejects the rumour that there is a shortage of ventilators at the facility. "We have 76 ventilators, and all of them are functional.
"It is also not true that a female patient died when there was a power shutdown. The lady had been brought to the hospital in a critical condition."
According to Khalil, Mayo receives about 1,800 patients at the emergency ward daily. "Almost 5,000 patients visit the OPD in a matter of a single day, and 2,000 minors are brought to the children’s emergency section. We have 17 operation theatres which have to cater for scores of patients. Besides, there are two CT scan machines -- one is for the emergency ward and the second for OPD. The one at emergency is not functional right now. We’re importing a new pipe from Germany; it should be with us soon."
He also says that the CT scan machine installed at the OPD has to be closed for three alternate days in a week in order to give it rest. "Why, because it has the capacity to scan a maximum of 25 patients a day but more than a 100 people use the machine."
The AMS also blames the "office-bearers of the Young Doctors’ Association (YDA)" for spreading malicious rumours about the hospital facilities: "They want to blackmail the MS into giving their colleagues jobs against merit."
When Dr Zafarullah, an office-bearer of YDA, was approached, he refused to speak on the subject.